In general, Your Worship focuses on religious and spiritual organizations aimed at adults – but families are generally central to religious activity. While most local religious groups offer Sunday school or some form of worship for children, actual schools are a common way of bringing religion into the lives of children from an early age – and it’s more common than one might think.
America’s separation of church and state prohibits religious observances in public, secular institutions of learning, but religious education does account for a noticeable portion of school enrollment in the United States – about 1 in 12 children attend a school with a specifically religious philosophy and approach.
Santa Barbara is no exception. While religious schools tend to keep a fairly low profile – as most private schools do – they exist, and there’s a surprising number of them in town, including at least one that’s just opened this year. Perhaps the best known is Bishop Garcia Diego High School, a Catholic school that’s been open since 1959, with its current name and location. In 2005, Bishop “became an independent Catholic high school,” according to their website. What this means is that they’re no longer being sponsored by a Catholic diocese, and can organize their own curriculum, fees, and other policies. This move away from association with specific religious congregations and authorities seems to be a trend in religious schools in Santa Barbara. Catholic schools, also known as parochial schools when they’re associated with a specific parish, are almost always affiliated officially with the Catholic diocese. The fact that Bishop has chosen to go independent says a lot about changing attitudes towards religious education. For many parents, religious schools are a way to simultaneously take their children out of substandard public school and inculcate values that they see as important, and these values are not necessarily denominational.
Most of the religious schools in Santa Barbara are Christian, and most are non-denominational, meaning that they teach a fairly generalized Christian ethos. From El Montecito Early School, which offers preschool through the sixth grade, to Providence Hall, a Christian high school which opened this year, there are quite a variety of grade levels and locations available.
There are also non-Christian schools in town, though not nearly as many.
Congregation B’nai B’rith offers Beit YaHeladim Preschool, which is open all year, including the summer. There is, however, a dearth of secondary education aimed at religious families who are not Christian. Providence Hall, mentioned above, does however welcome students who may not be Christian, but who subscribe to a Judeo-Christian set of values. Ronald Grosh, headmaster of the school, said in a phone interview that “the ethos of the school is one that welcomes expression of faith,” and “nourishes the development of sound character.” He added that families of other faiths interested in the school would simply “have to be aware that the course of study would be contextualized by a Christian world-view.”
While many parents may choose to keep their children in public schools or in secular private schools, there are faith-based options for families of all religions and denominations and all of the local religious schools are happy and willing to discuss options with families who make faith a priority in their lives. While the cost of private schooling may be a barrier for some, a staggering 80 percent of Providence Hall’s students are on some form of tuition assistance, and forty percent are minority students. In other words, the option is there and private religious schools in Santa Barbara make inclusion a priority.