I never celebrated Catholic Schools Week during my 18 plus years as a Catholic school student. It wasn’t that I disapproved of Catholic education, rather at the time I attended the former St. Catherine Elementary School and Divine Savior Holy Angels High School, both in Milwaukee, the week was not the big celebration it is now.

In fact, during some of my early years at the Catholic Herald, I remember being a bit overwhelmed with all the press releases we’d receive in early January telling us about roller skating outings, crazy hat days, “twin days,” spirit days, dress like your favorite teacher days, that the schools would initiate to celebrate Catholic Schools Week. We’d often send photographers around the archdiocese to capture some of these “crazy” celebrations to help showcase the many activities and events in our archdiocese.

And the celebrations continue. Many of the things we hear about incorporate fun with service and education. For example, in Beaver Dam, at St. Katharine Drexel School, the celebrations will revolve around “Fun on the Farm” to honor farmers and the importance of agricultural workers and industries. A prayer service and visit from Alice in Dairyland are part of the festivities.

According to the National Catholic Educational Association website (ncea.org), the organization began recognizing Catholic Schools Week in 1974 and its national marketing campaign started in 1992. I’m guessing the advent of the marketing campaign is when the local celebrations really kicked off.

Regardless of when the celebrating began, Catholic schools truly are something to celebrate.

For example, according to ncea.org, total Catholic school enrollment nationwide for the current academic year is just under 2 million at 1.939 million students. Of those, 1.3 million are in elementary/middle schools and nearly 580,000 are in secondary schools.

Locally, there are 24,558 students in 90 archdiocesan elementary schools and 7,296 students in 15 high schools, according to the 2016 Wisconsin Pastoral Handbook.

But it’s not all about numbers. It’s the teachers, administrators and schools themselves which incorporate faith lessons throughout their daily schedules that truly make the difference.

That’s why we at Catholic Herald Family have traditionally joined in this Catholic Schools Week celebration by devoting much of our February issue to some of the positive stories taking place in our schools.

In this issue, you’ll read about one family, the Teofilos of Fond du Lac on Page 13, who have sent all nine of their children to St. Mary’s Springs High School. Both parents are St. Mary’s Springs alums, and their grown children continue the tradition by choosing Catholic education for their children!

Another feature on Page 10 examines the growing number of Chinese students studying in our archdiocesan high schools. Read why their parents are willing to spend some $40,000 a year to send them across the ocean at such a formative age to study in our schools.

Interestingly, most of them are not Catholic, yet the faith-based atmosphere and the rigorous academic offerings of the archdiocesan schools are attractive to these parents.

How about looking at Catholic schools through the eyes – or more accurately footwear – of an educator? Michele Campbell, a teacher at Waukesha Catholic, offers a delightful look at the blessings and challenges – in her words, the “ruby slippers” or the “army boots” – of teaching in a Catholic school. She finds the ruby slippers far outweigh the boots and her observations are sure to bring a smile to your face with her many examples.

Catholic school contributions to our society are many and they are something that can be celebrated by all Catholics, whether you attended a Catholic school or not. As the 2016 Catholic Schools Week logo proclaims, they are “Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.”

Consider taking advantage of some of the open houses offered by our archdiocesan schools this time of the year and see for yourself some of the wonderful things taking place within them.

Also this month, don’t miss Henry Reyes’ suggestions for observing Lent as a family. Yes, even though Christmas trees still dot the snow banks outside homes, waiting for removal, Lent is less than two weeks away. Ash Wednesday is Feb. 10.

Make it a meaningful time for your family. Reyes’ suggestions are simple and easy to incorporate into the busy lives of today’s families.