Parents and Parishes Strengthen Student Faith Formation

The Dual Purpose of Catholic Schools Part I

Written by Father Tom Simonds, S.J., NCEA Director of Secondary Engagement, [email protected]

In this series of three blog posts, Fr. Tom Simonds, S.J. discusses the dual purpose of Catholic schools. He also shares a new strategy to strengthen student faith formation in Catholic schools by engaging parents and parishes.

Is your Catholic school achieving the mission you proclaim on your website? Before you answer, consider that Catholic schools have a dual mission: to be excellent schools and excellent places of faith formation. Unfortunately, not everyone working in Catholic schools would agree with me, as some think that being an excellent school and having some trappings of the Catholic faith are adequate to achieve the purpose of Catholic education.

Utilizing NSBECS to Measure School Faith Formation Program

The National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Schools, Second Edition (NSBECS) are best practice standards and benchmarks. NSBECS Benchmark 4.2 clearly states that Catholic school leaders and faculty members are to assist parents with the faith formation of their children in collaboration with the Catholic parish. Pope Francis also thinks that youth formation in the faith takes a collaborative effort by the community (Christ is Alive!, para. 202). While respecting diverse points of view, there is no doubt that best practice for a Catholic school includes excellence in both academics and faith formation.

If you are wondering how strong the faith formation program is at your school, you can use the NSBECS to evaluate the program. There are numerous benchmarks in all four domains of NSBECS that address student learning outcomes, school policies and school practices related to formation in the Catholic faith. In addition to grounding your evaluation process of your student faith formation program in the NSBECS, consider engaging in conversation with the parishes in your area and other appropriate organizations to learn more broadly about family faith formation and family involvement in the local Church.

Engaging Parents and Parish Leaders

As a leader or faculty member in a Catholic school, your goal is to prepare your students for their adult roles and to build your students’ faith practice. I think we can all agree that no Catholic school can achieve these twin goals on their own. Engaging parents and leaders of local parishes will strengthen the student faith formation program in Catholic schools through parent and parish engagement.

Working with a parish, you may discover a group of parents and other people who can assist you with better understanding how to engage families and the broader community through promoting family practices aligned with school and parish goals. For example, a parish priest could invite families with young children to meet with representatives from a Catholic school to learn together about current family practices to teach the faith to children and to discover new practices to teach the faith to children at home, in the parish and at school. Through this collaborative process, student faith formation will be strengthened and Christian community will be created.

Another model would be for a parish priest to invite families with young children to meet with representatives from several Catholic schools. Discussion topics could include family practices for teaching the faith to children, ideas parents have for youth involvement in the parish and parent hopes and desires for the type of moral and religious education their children will receive at school.

To create interest in the family, parish and school group, parents can be asked to lead the group with a goal of brainstorming a Christian service project for the group to engage in together (NSBECS Benchmark 4.4). Assisting others and getting to know them can be a good source of reflection about the role of God in one’s life. Like the disciples walking on the road to Emmaus who did not recognize Jesus right away, we too need help recognizing how Jesus is with us on our journey (Luke 24:13-35). Reflection on our Christian service and daily living of Jesus’ message provides a great means to recognize how Jesus is working in our lives and in our Christian communities.

Stay tuned to the next blog in this series where I will explore how to identify starting points promoting student and family parish affiliation and faith practice.