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Catholic School Advantage

A Pastor's Pledge to Increase Enrollment Sparks a Dramatic Turnaround at St. John Vianney School

Written by Steve McClure on Thursday, 19 March 2015.

SJVPhoenix1St. John Vianney Catholic School, located just west of Phoenix in Goodyear, Arizona, is a member of the third cohort of ACE’s Latino Enrollment Institute at Notre Dame. Established under the leadership of Fr. Joe Corpora, CSC, who now serves as the Director of University-School Partnerships and the Catholic School Advantage Campaign, the school once boasted a large and continuously growing student enrollment.

Similar to many Catholic schools around the country, however, St. John Vianney began experiencing some challenges maintaining enrollment in recent years. After several consecutive years seeing numbers drop off, Pastor Fr. Tom Eckert, C.S.C., resolved to reverse this trend.

At the Home and School Association meeting in May 2013, Fr. Tom, who had been Pastor of St. John Vianney Parish since 2011, pledged to personally bring in 20 new students for the upcoming school year. He challenged the parents at that meeting to do the same. Fr. Tom knew that with an additional 40 students, the school would be in a much more stable position.

Fr. Tom’s pledge was bolstered by the parish’s strongest marketing tool, the pulpit, as well as the addition of new school leadership in Doug Weivoda, the new principal, and Christine Tax, the new assistant principal. The pastoral leadership, which also included Fr. Paul Ybarra, C.S.C., a graduate of ACE Teaching Fellows and former teacher at St. John Vianney, spoke at all of the Masses about School Tuition Organizations (STOs) and Arizona’s robust scholarship tax credit program. This option meant that a Catholic education was indeed “available, affordable, and attainable."

Mr. Weivoda and Mrs. Tax made it a priority to assist both new and returning families in identifying and applying for outside financial aid opportunities, and began by compiling a list of all available STOs. They provided bilingual volunteers during the application season to assist parents in filling out online and paper applications and worked to consolidate tuition and any additional fees in order to limit the out-of-pocket expenses that families might incur.”

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St. John Vianney School’s market base has always been its parish, a predominantly Latino community with 600-700 children in the religious education program each year. Throughout their campaign to increase enrollment, Fr. Tom and Fr. Paul announced enrollment updates each week, and as RE parents regularly heard about the school at Mass and in RE parent meetings, the parish as a whole became active and excited stakeholders in the school’s growth.

Additionally, through divine providence—an important tenet of Holy Cross priests’ spirituality— Fr. Tom stumbled upon an unexpected form of fundraising. After a parishioner dropped off apricots from a local farm, he decided to bake two pies and sell them after Mass. The money from these pies was intended to cover the registration fee for new students whose families were in need of financial assistance. These pies were quickly snapped up, so Fr. Tom kept baking. Three months later, he had baked over 50 pies and had raised over $8,000. And more than just the additional scholarship money that Fr. Tom’s unexpected culinary endeavor generated, it got new families in the door. What made them stay was the consistent message that through adherence to the financial aid process, a Catholic education was indeed possible.

Throughout that summer, family after family came through St. John Vianney’s doors. Mr. Weivoda and Mrs. Tax worked with every family to ensure that they could indeed afford to send their children to the school. “I will tell you that the parents that were the most reticent because of the cost are some of the happiest here today,” says Weivoda.

Despite this enrollment growth, the team at St. John Vianney didn’t stop there. The following summer, Mr. Weivoda and Mrs. Tax attended the Latino Enrollment Institute at Notre Dame to learn additional strategies and best practices for Latino recruitment and enrollment.

Today enrollment is just shy of 300 and continuing to grow. The school is currently 84% Latino, and since the 2012-13 school year, total enrollment has increased by 50%, and Latino enrollment has increased by 68%.

St. John Vianney's story is a true testament to the vitality and growth that can result from a committed pastor and school leadership working together to embrace the opportunity―and indeed the urgency―to reach out to and welcome Latino families into Catholic schools. “Our future relies on the success of the relationship between our school and our Latino population,” says Weivoda, “and the LEI has been an important component in achieving this.”

Combination of the LEI and Archdiocesan Latino Initiative Leads to Remarkable Growth at St. Cecilia School

on Thursday, 19 March 2015.

StCeciliaCincinnatiWhen Principal Michael Goedde signed St. Cecilia School up to attend the 2014 Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI), they had just experienced the largest increase in Latino students in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati during the 2013-14 school year. Despite this success, however, they were not about to stop there. Located in an urban part of Cincinnati with a growing Latino population, Mr. Goedde knew that they had only seen the tip of the iceberg.

Seeking additional strategies to reach out to the Latino families in their neighborhood, a team from St. Cecilia attended the LEI at Notre Dame in the summer of 2014. As the third school from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to participate in the LEI, they had a good sense for what the program had to offer.

Additionally, St. Cecilia School already benefited from strong Archdiocesan support through the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Latino outreach initiative, which began in 2011 in an effort to recruit and retain more Latino students in Cincinnati’s Catholic schools.

Mr. Goedde hoped that the LEI would challenge his team to build on the work that they had already begun and bring back new ideas and actionable steps to make St. Cecilia School a model for others.

“We want to be a beacon for Hispanic families so that the faith can flourish and students can be provided a top-notch education,” says Goedde. “We want to lay the foundation for future success for our children.”

After attending the LEI, St. Cecilia School nearly doubled their Latino enrollment. Since the 2011-12 school year, the first year of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Latino outreach initiative, the number of Latino students enrolled at St. Cecilia has increased from 5 to 50, with their total enrollment growing by 28% during that same period.

The intentionality with which Mr. Goedde and his team have approached Latino outreach and recruitment has been an important driver for change in the school. "Personal outreach at the nearby St. Charles Borromeo Parish, which has a large Latino population, was key to our success," says Goedde. Not only did they make the effort to personally meet and talk with families about opportunities at St. Cecilia, they developed marketing materials in Spanish, developed a tuition assistance program within the parish, shifted the methods of communication to be more inclusive of all cultures, and celebrated the universality of our faith.

Although St. Cecilia had already taken measures to more effectively engage the Latino families in their community prior to attending the LEI, attending the program allowed them to continue to build on that work. “We learned new strategies and approaches, and we were able to formulate a strategic plan to continue increasing our enrollment of Latino students,” says Goedde. “It gave our team new energy and determination to continue this work, not only for our schools, but for the Church as a whole.”

St. Therese School Thrives after Refocusing Recruitment Efforts to Draw More Families from Latino Community

on Thursday, 19 March 2015.

StThereseDenverSt. Therese Catholic School in Aurora, CO, is a pre-K through 8 Catholic grade school that was founded in 1956 by the Sisters of Charity from Leavenworth, Kansas. At its peak, the school served 250 students, but in recent years, enrollment dipped far below that.

In 2013, the parish and school community underwent a change in leadership, welcoming new principal, Mrs. Toni Vaeth, and new pastor, Fr. Hector Chiappa-Villareal, and a significant transformation ensued. Both the new pastor and principal share a Latino background and are bilingual in English and Spanish. Fr. Hector is from Mexico City and thoroughly understands the cultural background of many of the parish families. The new pastor-principal team has been extremely proactive in inviting new families to consider sending their children to St. Therese.

In 2013, Mrs. Vaeth and select members of her staff, including the long-time business manager of the school and Religious Education Director, attended the Latino Enrollment Institute at Notre Dame. Since then, they have worked tirelessly to make the school more visible in the parish and the wider community, and to create a culture that reflects that of the growing number of Latino families. These efforts have truly paid off as St. Therese had the second highest enrollment increase in the entire Archdiocese of Denver last year.

Since Mrs. Vaeth and Fr. Hector began in 2013, enrollment at St. Therese has grown by 33%. Furthermore, after attending the LEI in the summer of 2014, the school welcomed 36 new students, and more than half of those who registered in the past year are Latino.

St. Therese’s recent enrollment growth is undoubtedly a direct result of the school's leadership, who have been very intentional about their outreach to the Latino community and creating a culturally responsive environment at the school. The school has begun the tradition of celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe and Las Posadas, which are important parts of Latino spirituality. Furthermore, they have hired three new bilingual staff members, including two aides and the cafeteria manager. These individuals are able to help with translation on a daily basis, and the cafeteria manager has made it easier for Spanish-speaking parents to volunteer in the cafeteria alongside her.

An informal "madrinas" program has also begun to take shape, which Mrs. Vaeth intends to build on in coming years. In addition to hiring new Latino staff members, Mrs. Vaeth invited members of the Latino community to serve on the School Advisory Council, as well as the Parent Volunteer Organization.

Above all, word-of-mouth has played an integral role in St. Therese School's enrollment growth this past year – families sharing the news about St. Therese with other families. Fr. Hector, Mrs. Vaeth, and the Director of Hispanic ministries have all spoken at Masses in both English and Spanish about the importance of Catholic education and the opportunities available at the St. Therese. The school leadership's ability to communicate in Spanish with prospective parents has definitely enhanced the school's visibility and helped make Latino families feel more welcome and at home at St. Therese.

Bright Spots from the LEI: St. Gertrude the Great School

on Tuesday, 16 December 2014.

St. Gertrude the Great is a Catholic elementary school rooted in the Salesian tradition and located in the predominantly Latino community of Bell Gardens, California. It is the only Catholic school serving five of the surrounding communities, but after numerous years of declining enrollment, it was slated to close in 2011. That year, Mary Flock was hired as the new principal and inherited a school with no books, 7 teachers, and only 42 students. And if the task of turning the school around were not daunting enough, she was given one year to make it happen.

Mary and her team rolled up their sleeves and got to work, and from day one, her focus was on building a community. Through a lot of hard work, creativity, and sheer will to see St. Gertrude School succeed, Mary and her team were able to increase their enrollment from 42 students to 110 in a single year. Following that year, in the summer of 2012, Mary and her team attended the first Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) at Notre Dame to further build on the progress they had already made. They also worked closely with ACE’s field consultant in Los Angeles to implement the Madrinas marketing model. Today, St. Gertrude the Great School is thriving with 176 students enrolled, many of whom are from first-generation Latino families, and Mary serves as a mentor principal for the LEI.

Bright Spots from the LEI: St. Clement School

on Tuesday, 16 December 2014.

St. Clement School, located in the village of St. Bernard in Cincinnati, OH, is a pre-K though 8 Catholic School rooted in the Franciscan tradition. St. Clement School has served the community of St. Bernard for over 160 years, but in more recent years was in danger of closing as enrollment began to decline. That all changed when Principal Jeff Eiser and his wife, Rosie, first came to the school in 2010. For Jeff, a former sheriff's deputy of 29 years, this is a second career. He and his wife, Rosie, saw it as an opportunity to minister together and change young lives through Catholic education. Rosie serves as the volunteer school librarian, but her role extends far beyond that, as she is the main point of contact for the school's Hispanic families. As a wife, mother, and native Spanish-speaker, she is able to identify with the families, speak with them in their native language, and forge strong relationships, which has borne fruit in those families going out and spreading the word about St. Clement.

While St. Clement School continues to be very diverse, it too has followed the same demographic growth trends as much of the nation. The number of Latino families in the parish and the surrounding community have grown at a much faster rate, which gave impetus to St. Clement sending a team to the Latino Enrollment Institute at the University of Notre Dame in the summer 2013. Today, St. Clement School's enrollment is the highest it has been in 20 years.

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