Local Catholic schools gain enrollment at key entry points

| March 20, 2019 | 0 Comments
Nolan Pergolski, foreground, and Luke Owusu-Afriyie play cars during “free choice time” Sept. 20 in the preschool classroom at St. Joseph School in Rosemount.

Nolan Pergolski, foreground, and Luke Owusu-Afriyie play cars during “free choice time” Sept. 20 in the preschool classroom at St. Joseph School in Rosemount. COURTESY ALYSSA DUET

Catholic schools across the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis saw enrollment increases this year at key entry points for students — preschool, kindergarten and ninth grade.

The kindergarten and ninth-grade classes also were the largest they have been in the last three years.

Credit goes to pastors and principals, school staff and parents, and supporters such as the Catholic Schools Center of Excellence, said Jason Slattery, director of the archdiocese’s Office for the Mission of Catholic Education.

Particular attention has been given to linking preschool and kindergarten classes, creating a clear connection to the larger elementary school to help parents see a pathway through Catholic education, Slattery said.

“We hope there is more and more of this translation, so that many of our eighth-grade students can understand how great it is to go onto a Catholic high school,” he said.

Anne Marie Lamers is among parents who have experienced the warm welcome of a Catholic preschool for her daughter, Amelia, and first grade for her son Benjamin, both at St. Joseph School in Rosemount.

The preschool opened last school year in rooms converted from the school library with help from a $50,000 CSCOE grant. Lamers and her husband, Michael, brought their children to the school this year, and noted how the teachers, staff and students participate in the broader school’s efforts to help families feel part of the community through family nights and events such as an all-school science and zoo fair.

“Getting to know other parents is really a blessing,” Lamers said. “It’s been amazing. We love the community. Everybody is very welcoming and sweet.”

Members of the parish of St. Joseph, the Lamers hope all four of their children — including 3-year-old Leo and 1-year-old Lucas — will be able to attend St. Joseph through eighth grade.

“It’s really important through grade school to lay the foundation of their faith,” Lamers said.

Retaining families with students like the Lamers so they can continue to take advantage of the academic and faith-based strength of Catholic schools has been a key goal for CSCOE, a nonprofit based in Minneapolis that supports excellence and enrollment efforts at archdiocesan elementary schools.

KEY NUMBERSThree enrollment growth areas in the archdiocese can be important entry points to Catholic education:

Preschool (first two years of tracking)
2017-2018: 3,529 students
2018-2019: 3,700 students, up 171, or 4.84 percent growth

Kindergarten (largest class in last three years)
2016-2017: 1,967 students
2017-2018: 1,941 students
2018-2019: 1,979 students, up 12 students over three years, or 0.6 percent growth. This year there are 38 students more than last year, up 1.95 percent.

Ninth grade (largest class in last three years)
2016-2017: 1,832 students
2017-2018: 1,818 students
2018-2019: 1,888, up 56 or 3 percent growth. This year’s enrollment increased by 70 students over last year, or 3.85 percent.

Jessica Trygstad, CSCOE’s enrollment manager, pointed in particular to a broad effort CSCOE began when it was founded in 2015 to increase the number of preschools and expand those already in place. Since then, five more of the archdiocese’s 79 elementary schools have started a preschool, bringing the total to 73.

And a program CSCOE began for preschools two years ago titled Faithful Beginnings has attracted
St. Joseph and 49 other preschools in the archdiocese. That effort includes consistent logos and branding, a website, and assistance with enrollment and retention strategies, teacher training, communicating with parents and developing a relationship with the grade school, Trygstad said.

Those efforts appear to be working — the number of students in archdiocesan preschools grew this year to 3,700 students from 3,529 in 2017-2018, up 4.8 percent, according to an annual report from the Office for the Mission of Catholic Education.

The number of kindergarten students also has increased, to 1,979 from 1,941 last year and 1,967 in 2016-2017, the report said, using Oct. 1 data submitted by schools.

In other key areas of growth, there are 1,888 students in ninth grade this year, up from 1,818 last year and 1,832 in 2016-2017.

In the archdiocese overall, Catholic schools ­— from preschool through 12th grade — lost 121 students this year, or 0.4 percent, with 29,303 students filling classrooms this year, compared to 29,424 last year.

But that is a far cry from large losses of students experienced in the archdiocese and around the country in the years before 2015, said Steve Hoeppner, CSCOE interim president.

One reason for the turnaround in the archdiocese and nationally is a recognition that it is important to communicate more effectively what Catholic schools offer, Hoeppner said.

Slattery cited the same turnaround, noting in part that pastors, foundation partners and the archdiocese are unified in stressing the important role schools play as partners with parents in solidifying students’ faith and building up the Church.

“We try to be cautiously optimistic that we’ve realized a level of stability,” Slattery said of enrollment.

The archdiocese’s “Roadmap for Excellence in Catholic Education” announced this year is designed to build on that stability, helping ensure consistency across Catholic education’s many partners, with teams identifying action plans and taking steps to help students flourish in elementary schools, Slattery said.

“At the heart of that is helping (the schools) grow,” Slattery said. Strengthening grade schools will in turn “invariably strengthen our Catholic high schools,” he said.

Publicizing those efforts includes noting that Catholic schools educate the whole child, spiritually and academically, with an emphasis on developing a personal relationship with Christ, while building strong character and an orientation to serving others, Slattery said. It also involves having school parents acting as school ambassadors to spread the good word with other parents, he said.

Other examples of publicly celebrating Catholic schools in the archdiocese include CSCOE hosting all-school Masses of the Holy Spirit, with Archbishop Bernard Hebda presiding, that drew 12,000 students to U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis last year and to CHS Field in St. Paul in 2016, Hoeppner said.

CSCOE’s work to reach the growing Latino community includes touting Catholic schools at festivals and parades, hosting a weekly show on Spanish radio station La Raza, enlisting four Latino enrollment coordinators and opening a satellite office in the heart of that community in Minneapolis, Hoeppner said.

CSCOE’s overall enrollment efforts are led by two people, director Annemarie Vega and Trygstad.

Their efforts this year include helping fund enrollment plans of 64 schools, 18 of which also opted into the organization’s Latino enrollment plan, Trygstad said. In these initiatives, CSCOE asks for detailed plans and works with principals and other school officials on enrollment goals, strategies and tactics, such as holding open houses and visiting neighboring parishes that don’t have a Catholic elementary school, she said.

Beyond those efforts, CSCOE publishes a quarterly magazine about Catholic schools and offers workshops and other assistance to all elementary schools on enrollment, marketing and development initiatives, such as best practices for conducting tours, developing websites, handling social media, enhancing staff training and other efforts, Trygstad said.

Schools also make certain that students and their families have top-notch faith and academic programs in the classrooms and extracurricular offerings, Hoeppner said.

“We want to enhance excellence in every way and increase enrollment,” Hoeppner said. “When families take a look at what Catholic schools have to offer they are amazed and say, ‘We want to be part of it.’”

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