Unique Catholic School Model Brings Service and Faith to Philadelphia

Published February 7, 2017

Mercy Career and Technical High School (Mercy CTE), a private, co-ed vocational high school, was founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1950. “In 1973, Mercy Vocational High School was born and grew its reputation for excellence in teaching workplace values and vocational education,” the school’s website states.

Today, Mercy CTE offers technical training in six career and technical education areas of concentration, including business, business trades, computer technology, cosmetology, culinary arts, and nurse-aide training.

The school’s website reports, “97 percent of 2016 graduates received at least one industry recognized certification.”

Near-Perfect Attendance, Grad Rates

Mercy CTE boasts a 99 percent graduation rate and a 97 percent average daily attendance rate. Of the 74 students who graduated from Mercy CTE in 2016, 60 percent went on to post-secondary education, including trade schools and training programs; 23 percent are working and continuing their education; 7 percent directly entered full-time employment; and 1 percent entered the military, according to the school’s website.

The school integrates classroom-based learning with practical work experience by partnering with a variety of organizations. More than 100 business throughout the Philadelphia region have hired Mercy students for paid and unpaid work, including the Philadelphia Police Department, University of Pennsylvania, Lockheed Martin, and Fox Chase Cancer Center. Schools, hospitals, community centers, salons, and corporations employ Mercy students.

“The three-year career and technical education curriculum develops educational and career goals, provides on-the-job learning experiences, and offers students whose talents and career goals are best served by comprehensive academic/career and technical education programs the opportunity to acquire marketable competencies and/or the foundation for post-secondary career education,” Mercy CTE’s website states. “Each career area offers students the opportunity to earn professional certification/licensing.”

‘Promote Service to Others’

Christian Aument, Mercy CTE’s vice president for academics, says the school also emphasizes public service.

“The mission of the school is we promote service to others,” Aument said. “Our students have unique skills to help others. A lot of Catholic schools have some sort of service requirement. Our students have skills that are developed in career and technical [fields], so they can go out and use them.”

Catherine Glatts, Mercy CTE vice principal for technology and career and technical education, says students regularly receive hands-on learning.

“Even in the curriculum, our teachers take the students out to do service,” Glatts said. “Students have tackled the homeless issue working with Impact Philly, [a program to help the homeless and unemployed]. They have built houses with Habitat for Humanity. Our culinary students serve dinner for committee meetings. Our business program has been designing thinking into the classroom and working with Impact Philly to tackle the homeless issue.”

‘Making a Better Society’

Fr. Stephen McDermott began his career in high school ministry in his native Philadelphia. McDermott says he found many disruptive students had poor family structures and lacked direction, preventing them from realizing their full potential. A faith-based education and opportunity to work can greatly affect the trajectory of a student’s life, McDermott says.

“When we create a system where people are enslaved by the welfare state, how are they able to give glory to God?” McDermott said. “When you’re given everything. … It devalues dignity. By showing people the dignity that they have and giving them opportunities to manifest those dignities, to study, to grow, and to cultivate those skillsets that God has given every one of us, not only are we achieving the potential that God created us to have, now I am transforming the culture and making a better society.

“God has given people these gifts and interests they should explore and learn, and they should cultivate these gifts,” McDermott said. “Whether you’re a doctor, a farmer, or a janitor, each one of us has value. We have this welfare-state culture that does not lend to [the notion] that everyone can contribute. The Catholic education teaches us our dignity and value, no matter what we’re called to in life.”

Real-Life Learning

Mercy deploys teams of students around the country to address the needs of those surviving natural disasters. The projects are housed under the school’s Operation Katrina program, founded when students served in post-Hurricane Katrina states.

Students have worked in Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and, this year, in Lumberton, North Carolina, where Hurricane Matthew recently devastated numerous homes. Glatts says these real-world experiences give young students perspective.

“The service work helps them decide what they might like to do in life and define a plan for themselves where they’ll be successful,” Glatts said.

Serving ‘Their Whole Lives’

Aument says the Mercy CTE model nurtures lifelong giving.

“Increasingly, a larger and larger segment of our student population have family income below the poverty level,” Aument said. “So, these kids don’t have much, but they are giving to others. We’ve witnessed firsthand the profound impact that has on students. We want them to learn to serve their whole lives.”

Ashley Bateman ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.