But as the strike by Catholic high school teachers in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia closes out its second week, these three students - and 16,000 others - are in academic limbo.
The students say they are frustrated that the 2011-12 academic year has begun for friends at public and private schools while they are stuck on the sidelines, waiting to hear when the 17 archdiocesan high schools will reopen.
"I think the parents and teachers need to listen to what the kids want," said Creciun, who is eager to begin making the 90-minute bus ride between her home in West Norriton to Lansdale. "We're the ones who have to pay the consequences of them going on strike. I think it's not fair to us."
Howell has been talking to friends, playing video games, and checking his school's website for updates. Proska has been going to soccer practice and working on college applications.
Proska said he and his friends were bored.
"Everyone's just wanting to get back," he said.
The 711 teachers at the Catholic high schools have been on strike since Sept. 6, when they overwhelmingly rejected the archdiocese's contract offer over proposed changes in working conditions and job security, and the archdiocese's plans to hire more part-time teachers.
Wednesday was the first day all students were out of school. The students began returning last week for staggered orientation and testing sessions under the supervision of administrators and members of religious orders. The Office of Catholic Education said Tuesday that it would close the high schools until the strike was settled.
Negotiators for the Association of Catholic Teachers, Local 1776, and the archdiocese returned to the bargaining table Thursday to try to resolve the impasse.
Also on Thursday, an ad hoc parents' group that is urging parents to withhold tuition until students return to school said it had a massive surge in responses.
Catholic Parents Respond (CPR) said 822 participants - parents, students, teachers and others - had joined the conversation about the strike on its Facebook page by 5 p.m. Thursday. Twenty-four hours earlier, 55 were aboard.
Tuition at 15 of the Catholic high schools is $5,600 annually. The rate is higher for the archdiocese's two newest schools: $6,100 at Bishop Shanahan in Downingtown and $6,600 at Pope John Paul II in Royersford.
Parents make scheduled payments throughout the academic year. The first payments for the 2011-12 school year were due in the summer.
Not all parents posting on the group's Facebook page supported withholding tuition. Others said they might also consider refraining from making contributions during Mass until students are back in class.
The union and the archdiocese have been at odds over the archdiocese's desire to overhaul the contract to reflect what it sees as the altered educational landscape of the 21st century, and to give it greater flexibility and control over teaching assignments and scheduling.
Wednesday night, the Office of Catholic Education sent out another letter to Catholic parents saying that it was continuing to negotiate in good faith but was committed to a contract that would require all teachers to use an online grading system, add 30 minutes to the instructional day, and mandate that teachers "submit lesson plans so that academic standards are met."
The union, meanwhile, informed its members that it was continuing to object to many of the archdiocese's proposals, including lengthening the school day and school year without additional pay and shortening the extended leave for sick or injured teachers from three semesters to 20 weeks.
Parents remain divided over the strike.
Jean Ann Vogelman, whose daughter E.M. is a junior at Archbishop Prendergast in Drexel Hill, said teachers were being unreasonable. She is upset they have balked at proposals requiring them to use an online grading system, submit advance lesson plans, and follow the state's academic standards for core subjects.
"As a parent, the academic integrity, in terms of the Pennsylvania state standards and lesson plans and accountability, is paramount, along with their Catholic education," she said.
Vogelman said she had not received a raise where she works and is paying more for health coverage, yet the teachers are pressing for more than the 7.84 percent salary increase over three years the archdiocese has offered.
The typical Catholic high school teacher earned $50,550 in the last academic year and has been teaching for 20 years, union officials have said.
Howell's mother, Debbie, said she wanted her son to return to school, but supported the teachers.
"It disappoints me to hear that there are parents voicing opinions to the contrary," she said. "Catholic school teachers are grossly underpaid in comparison to their public school counterparts as it is. They teach in the system because they are truly dedicated to the profession and as a vocation to the Catholic teachings."
Contact staff writer Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or email@example.com.