By Mr. Richard Cooper, John Paul Parent
(Edited from remarks delivered at Fall 2014 Open House to prospective families.)
When the time came to look at high schools, my wife and I simply thought we’d follow the track of so many other Northern Virginia families. Our daughter would go to one of the Catholic schools that were close to our home. That would be an easy option for us to pursue. While we had heard some good things about this new Catholic school that had recently opened, my wife and I really didn’t give it much thought.
However, our daughter Alexandra had a different idea. One fall night at dinner, Alexandra shared that a group of JP students had come to speak to the 8th graders in her class at St. Mary’s. She explained that JP had a state-of-the-art building, a high caliber faculty, a unique Bioethics Curriculum, and this thing called a “House System.”
Not quite sure what she was talking about, I asked about the House System. “Is this like the Harry Potter thing with the Slytherin and Gryffindor groups competing with each other?” I was quickly corrected by her with a fairly firm, “No Dad. They’re named after saints and they compete with each other in academics, sports and other contests. It sounds pretty cool and I want to learn more.”
Alexandra has always been a fairly easy-going child, but we could see that there was something that really intrigued her about this school. However, my wife and I were convinced that, regardless of the school’s bioethics program, stellar faculty, or very unique house system, the school was out of the range of possibility for us. How on earth were we going to get her from our home near Mount Vernon to Dumfries, and get to work ourselves, let alone have her participate in all of the activities and events that make high school years fun and memorable?
My wife and I resolved that we needed to convince her that this school wasn’t practical for her or for our family. As we began to discuss this with Alexandra over the next couple of days, she again described that there was something special going on at JP and on the shear edge of begging, she asked about going to the open house.
So three years ago, Alexandra and I climbed into the car and made our way to Dumfries. Before leaving I remember saying something to my wife: “Don’t worry, honey. Once Alexandra sees all of these traffic lights, she’ll figure it out that this isn’t practical.”
So away we went. We drove down to the school, and on the way I started counting traffic lights. After losing count, I parked the car and walked in with her.
From the moment we stepped foot inside we were met by smiling and positively enthusiastic students, parents and faculty members. With my hands firmly in my pockets, trying to hold fast to the position that my wife and I had staked for ourselves, my daughter and I walked into the presentation in the auditorium.
We weren’t there very long before we saw a couple of people that we knew from our home parish. We were soon joined by some of the other friendly JP students, parents and faculty who came over to talk to us.
You can get a pretty good vibe from a place by the people you meet within it. From the moment we stepped into the school, the people radiated a positive energy that I can only compare to a few other places I’ve been in my life.
It was more than obvious that the people who roamed these halls, classrooms and sporting fields wanted to be a part of JP. The parents were obviously proud of what was going on. The students, who are the life-blood of any learning institution, were brimming with enthusiasm about their school and wanted to share it with whoever they could.
It was obvious something really special was unfolding before me. I looked at my daughter who was glowing in the environment around her, and noted that she was not alone. I saw a lot of other young men and women in the auditorium that were experiencing the same thing she was.
As I sat taking all of this in, I must admit that I felt like I was the cold-hearted Grinch in the animated classic “The Grinch that Stole Christmas,” where his cold heart of jaded, brutal reality suddenly explodes in size and warmth several times over because I was just flooded with a profound sense of joy that said, “This is the place for her.”
That was not part of the original plan that my wife and I had discussed. My wife and I had a lot of aspirations for Alexandra and her brothers, but becoming a northern Virginia commuter at the age of 14 was not one of them!
There was the very real issue of distance, but as our time at the open house unfolded it was obvious this place and these people were extraordinarily special. About 30 minutes into the presentation at JP, I texted my wife a message: “I failed. I’m sold. This is the place for her. I want to go to high school with her. This place is so cool and oozes energy.” I think I remember my wife responding back with a message along the lines of, “Are you nuts? How is she going to get there and back?”
Amid thoughts of “I’m going to be in the doghouse” and, “This is not what we discussed,” I broached the question of commuting to Jennifer Cole, the admissions director, at the end of the Open House. She explained that a JP bus comes north to bring students to school (buses head south and west as well) and that the school helps parents network so that car pools and other transportation solutions can be arranged. How could I argue with that?
Soon enough, Alexandra applied and was admitted, and the JP bus and parent carpool network have been a part of our life ever since. Along that path we’ve met some great parents and students that have made our location work for us. The result of our children’s time here is worth every moment and every sacrifice.
While it may be the newest kid on the block, JP is by far the king of the hill. Look at the faculty, and see the institutions and degrees that they are employing to educate our kids. Look again and you will see that many of them bring more than just educational expertise – they bring years of service within our military service branches, law enforcement, scientific laboratories and other professional pursuits.
This is in addition to the Dominican Sisters that lead this institution. Astounding in their personal example by the lives they lead, and the work they do in the classrooms, they also offer a full-throated, fist-pumping roaring cheer at any sporting event.
I invite prospective JP parents to take a look at the curriculum and see that it is far from memorizing charts, dates and figures. It is full of lessons in critical thinking, analysis and writing, so that our kids can develop their own ideas for the future while being able to defend the rights and beliefs they hold dear as disciples of Christ.
One of the highlights of Alexandra’s tenure at JP are the insights she has attained through the Bioethics Curriculum. Whether they have realized it or not, Alexandra and her JP peers have been gifted with the training to think through and discuss very challenging issues, both capably and confidently.
When all these collective treasures (and others I don’t have space to mention) are considered together, the winner is John Paul the Great. I can say without reservation the rewards for my daughter and our family have been off the chart. This school is a blessing. At JP you can be inspired and comforted knowing that your child will not only get a great education, grow in their faith and get to know God and His gifts even better, but also have an experience every child deserves in a warm, caring and nurturing environment as they grow into adulthood.
Pope Saint John Paul II lived an extraordinary life based upon certain precepts, all of which can be found at this school dedicated in his name. In the end, that is the ultimate blessing for any child and their family to have.