They may have to budget their money and time more carefully than their public school counterparts, but some Catholic school parents told The Evangelist that their children's education is worth extra sacrifice and dedication.

In each of the Albany Diocese's 24 schools, parents pitch in to run after-school activities, organize fundraising events, man lunch rooms and libraries and more.

"I've done a little bit of each," mused Ellen Ares, a parent of two students and PTO vice president at St. Mary's School in Ballston Spa. "There's always something going on." Conversely, she believes, "A lot of times when you go to public schools, you leave them at the door."

There's no reason for St. Mary's parents to get bored: They can participate in organizing a snow tubing night, heading a Lego team, teaching yoga after school, joining fundraising committees, working book fairs or helping teachers lead group activities.

They need us
"I think, being a parent in a Catholic school, [our help] is needed as much as the teachers are needed," Mrs. Ares said. "It probably wouldn't be able to run without parents' involvement. There wouldn't be a hot lunch program" or profits of up to $30,000 streaming in from the PTO's annual gala.

Mrs. Ares and other parents say their involvement develops their social circles and makes them worry less about their children.

"My children like me being there, and I like being able to see them during the day," Mrs. Ares said. "With what's going on in the world nowadays and all the scary things that are happening, I like the fact that every teacher in that school knows my children. If they're in the wrong place at the wrong time, [the teachers] know it."

She enrolled her first child at St. Mary's because of the pre-k curriculum and "just stuck with it. I liked what they offered and that you could bring God into the classroom," she said. Students "really have a good Christian identity, going to this school. They're aware that not every kid is as lucky as them, that they have to do their part to help people."

Help from above
Lisa Dobkowski, a parent of four students at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons School and St. Madeleine Sophie School in Schenectady, agreed that the religious emphasis in diocesan schools is crucial.

"We want them to be successful in whatever they do, but if they don't have faith and they don't have God's love, in our minds, we haven't done our jobs," Mrs. Dobkowski said. "They know that starting the day off with prayer is a natural part of their lives. They've learned we can turn to God.

"Our kids are in school for eight hours a day," she continued. "You worry, as a parent, about what are they getting in all those hours and, 'Is it counterproductive to what we're doing at home?'" In Catholic schools, those fears are assuaged.

Mrs. Dobkowski rests assured that her children's schools exceed state standards, though she recalled that she once believed a stereotype that "Catholic education is not as good as a public school education.

"But it was the opposite," she noted. "The academics [are] so outstanding."

She pointed out that it's also a myth that all Catholic school parents must be wealthy. She's seen families take on extra jobs or relocate to save money. The Dobkowskis try to abstain from vacations and eating out.

Payoffs to helping
"That money comes from somewhere so you do without something else," she said, adding that it will pay off when her children get college scholarships.

The mother of six finds time to serve as Home and School Association president, school board chairwoman and a "mom" for a long list of programs. Her husband, David, reads to classes and fills in as needed.

In Catholic schools, "there isn't the large number of faculty and the money that the public schools have," Mrs. Dobkowski said. "They really rely very heavily on families. While that can be a burden, it's part of the investment. We definitely have received more than we have given."

Maureen Frazier, who has three children in Mater Christi School in Albany, said she has "immersed" herself in volunteering and leadership roles in recent years.

The benefit, she said, is "to really see how the school works and to see really what is needed for the school to succeed. I think it gives parents a peace of mind to better know how their school is run [and] what their kids are doing during the day."

Ms. Frazier knows all her children's friends and their parents. She's welcome to visit her children in school, which she says is "worth every penny."

Results of involvement
Ms. Frazier added: "What is so valuable to [parents] is that we have a say."

Administrators are grateful for parental involvement - which, in Mater Christi's case, enhances the school's offerings, said principal Theresa Ewell.

"Parents embrace that [service] because they want more for their children," she said. "The more you can do, the more we can provide."

An annual PTO fundraiser at Mater Christi gives $200 to each class to use for field trips and other extras. Mrs. Ewell also has parents to thank for a school festival that's open to the community and for major fundraisers, the talent show, the drama club (which meets weekly, led by parents and theater professionals they recruited), hospitality at special events and more. Ms. Frazier said one of the parents' fundraisers enabled the middle school classes to buy tablets.

"I think all parents are interested and want to do things for their children," Mrs. Ewell said. "In a Catholic school, we provide more opportunity. [Education is] a partnership with the teacher and the school and the student. Parents who are involved make a huge difference in their child's success. We're very blessed to have the amount of support we do have."