Author Archives: NCEATALK

By the Grace of the Holy Spirit: Working in Partnership with Parents

The following blog was contributed by Jodee Blanco, New York Times best-selling author and consultant.

It’s been a meaningful and extraordinary year. While we’ve been tested in ways that none of us, even at our most imaginative, could have ever anticipated, I’ve also seen the Holy Spirit at work in our Catholic schools more this year than any other.

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Over the last two decades, I’ve had the honor of meeting many of you, either at convention, or because I visited your schools to do anti-bullying work. I’m always moved and inspired by how much you give of yourselves every day and the sacrifices you make for your students.

I know there were moments this year that that sacrifice seemed larger, yet you still kept going, guided by a light within that nothing could extinguish. I saw The Holy Spirit in action at every school that I visited. I saw it in the courage of superintendents who made tough decisions despite feeling like no matter what they did someone wouldn’t be happy; in the patience of principals who found joy in every day even when they were being pummeled by divisiveness in their communities. I saw it in the sense of humor of teachers who rather than giving into frustration, hunkered down and found new ways to connect with students. I saw it in the smiles of beleaguered, over-worked office secretaries who never lost their warmth or compassion, in the resolve of school nurses and counselors who refused to let anything, not even a pandemic, get in the way of their ability to serve. I saw The Holy Spirit smiling through all of you even when your hearts were heavy and I want to thank you for reminding me and everyone whose lives you touch, that with faith, we got this.

One of my greatest privileges when I’m on the road is being able to listen to your stories and learn about you, your schools and your needs. Almost all of you have had challenges with parents, and I thought this might be a good time, as we begin reflecting during the holiest of holidays, to offer some insights.

  • When A Person Is Scared, They Act Out.

If you can tell yourself that the parent who keeps testing your patience is driven by fear, a feeling of a lack of control and that it isn’t personal, it will help you to have compassion for them, the first and most important step in breaking down barriers.

  • Expectation Management Is Important for Building Trust.

To work effectively in partnership with a parent, everyone needs to be on the same page about communication and follow-up. For example, if you’ve come up with a plan of action together, discuss and agree upon a timeline for the implementation and be specific about what you expect of each other including how often you’ll update one another on progress and how. Then, document it in a concise memo that you can both work from moving forward. It’s best to bullet the action items and clearly indicate who’s doing what. The updates can be done a number of ways, but I think the most efficient is to simply add them to the original memo and highlight and date each new entry. The documentation process will make the parent feel more in control and provide a guidepost for you and them.

  • What To Do If a Parent or Group of Parents Are Using Social Media Platforms in Ways That Are Hurtful or Unproductive.

Do not engage the parent publicly online as this is only likely to accelerate the issue.  Instead, message them privately, acknowledge that you hear how upset they are, and suggest talking things through over the phone or in person/via Zoom. When you do have that conversation, don’t interrupt or become defensive. Listen and then share your honest thoughts. Often, just letting someone talk and feel heard will dissipate enough of the tension to redirect the dialogue in a more positive direction. 

  • The Ongoing Importance of Self-Care. 

Be good to yourself.  Reward yourself. Make time for the things that bring you joy and refresh and rejuvenate your spirit. The more you treat yourself with patience, compassion and love, the more you’ll have to give at school. Self-care isn’t an indulgence; it’s an act of wisdom.

About the Author

Jodee Blanco is the author of the seminal New York Times bestseller Please Stop Laughing at Me and anti-bullying’s first voice. Dioceses turn to her regularly for professional development and to implement her anti-bullying program in their schools. Jodee is the author of a series of books for the NCEA and a content provider for The Andrew M. Greeley Center for Catholic Education at Loyola University in the areas of anti-bullying and governance. She also consults for schools and dioceses on enlightened parent communication practices and Catholic values-based crisis management. For more information, please visit:

Jodee’s Publications with NCEA:

Laudato Si’ Action Platform Launches with Leadership from NCEA

The following blog was contributed by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

On the World Day of Prayer for the Poor, November 14, the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development launched the next phase of the Laudato Si’ Action Platform. NCEA has played a key role in its development as a member of the Ecological Education working group.

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The Laudato Si’ Action Platform is a key Vatican initiative to empower the universal Church to achieve total sustainability in the holistic spirit of integral ecology. The human family faces increasing risks of hunger, disease, migration and conflict due to climate change and environmental degradation, unfortunately, the most vulnerable suffer above all.

The Laudato Si’ Action Platform provides practical tools to address this socio-ecological crisis. By committing to creating a Laudato Si’ Plan, NCEA members can access free resources to evaluate where they stand on the road to sustainability, reflect on the principles of integral ecology and make a plan to take action.

Over the past year, NCEA has helped shape both the model and the content for this program. Through deep and sustained conversations with the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and a global network of partners, the Holy Spirit has created a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, a shared space for action that offers new momentum to urgently address our socio-ecological crisis.

We invite you and all members of the universal Church to join us and the Vatican on this Laudato Si’ journey. Find out more at

How Catholic Schools are Strategizing to Address Learning Loss

The following blog was contributed by FACTS Education Solutions in Lincoln, NE.

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With the recent pandemic shining a bright light on increased, evolving student needs in the areas of literacy, mathematics, and social-emotional learning/educating the whole child, educators know how critical it is to have access to tools and resources that support the health, wellness, and academic achievement of everyone within their school community.

While administrators and leaders find themselves stretched-thin managing the continued and ever-changing challenges brought on by COVID, they have also been blessed with the largest financial opportunity in history to invest in their teachers through relief funding sources like ESSER and EANS. So, just what are Catholic schools across the country doing with these funds – and Title II-A funds – to maximize use and effectiveness to address needs across all levels of PK-12 education?

In the summer of 2021, teachers at three schools in Miami, Florida – Immaculata – La Salle High School, St. John Neumann High School, and St. Bonaventure Catholic School – outlined strategic professional development plans, starting with an intensive review of their current curriculums. Grade level teams and departments dedicated one to two weeks to the process, with an initial review and realignment of standards, to focus instruction on learning loss. With guidance and support from FACTS Ed onsite and virtual content experts, the schools will continue their work through 2023 to monitor progress, review data, and brainstorm additional solutions. Ongoing collaboration – through PD sessions, webinars, pop-up coaching, PLCs, and department meetings – is designed to ensure teachers and leaders are supported and successful throughout all stages of planning, redevelopment, and implementation. (As a bonus, teachers were eligible to receive stipends for their summer work!)

Alishea Jurado, Ed.D., dean of innovation from Immaculata – La Salle High School shared about their school’s strategy:

“FACTS Ed was instrumental in helping us develop a PD program targeting the specific needs of our teachers in preparing to return to school for the 2021-2022 school year. Working together, we developed Curriculum Realignment Week, a week in the summer where teachers met within both their department and grade-level groups to reevaluate curriculum to support students returning from virtual and hybrid learning. In addition, we were able to focus even more on intentionally embedding SEL activities into curriculum to help support our students. Teachers who participated in this PD opportunity shared they felt more prepared to start the next school year in comparison to other years, left with practical ideas, strategies, and tools to implement, deepened their relationships with their colleagues, and they felt better prepared to meet the social-emotional needs of their students.”

We know that outlining a strategic/PD plan can be time consuming, so other schools like Immaculata – La Salle High School are using FACTS Ed’s customizable PD packages as the launch point for the process. Because research shows that professional development training should be at least fourteen (14) hours to influence instruction, the packages (see examples listed below) offer flexible solutions that allow leaders to select the delivery model(s) (onsite, virtual, on-demand, coaching, etc.) and schedule(s) that best meet their needs (we facilitated remote and on-demand PD sessions to over 24,000 educators throughout the pandemic). Our network of expert facilitators and valuable partners like Kognito (SEL), LMU iDEAL (Blended Learning/STEM), help us to maintain exceptional Net Promotor Scores and remain hyper-focused on our mission: to change the trajectory of a child’s life.

Sample Packages:

  • Addressing Learning Loss
  • Curriculum Implementation
  • Redevelopment of Instructional Plans
  • Social Emotional Learning and Trauma-Informed Instruction (Kognito)
  • System-or School-wide Programs (LMU iDeal: Blended Learning-STEM)
  • Teacher and Leader Formation
  • Understanding Data and Using it to Improve Teaching and Learning

Visit FACTS Ed’s Professional Development page to learn more.

Growing Leadership in Catholic Schools

The following blog was contributed by Kathy Mears of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA).

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes and from all types of backgrounds. In Catholic education, we are seeking diversity. We are seeking leaders who look more like the students we are serving.

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As the immigrants who came from Western Europe discovered in the 1800’s, this vast country of ours holds much promise and hope. Now as we welcome those from Central and South America, Asia and Europe, Catholics in the United States understand that our Church will be enriched and grow because of our fellow disciples from around the world. 

Identifying and supporting new leaders is something NCEA takes very seriously.  Working with the University of Notre Dame, NCEA is a part of LEAD: Latino Educator and Administrator Development program. The goal of LEAD is to strengthen the Latino voice in both individual classrooms and schools. This initiative is designed to invite, advance and retain Latino educators in Catholic schools, as well as develop a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges that exist in this landscape.

This past week, I was invited to participate in the project and to meet in person members of our first cohort. I was so inspired by their dedication to their students, to our faith and the Church. Their desire to lead in our classrooms and schools was strong and gave me much hope for the future of Catholic education because the passion and love that they showed for the work ahead.

Students in our schools deserve to learn from people who look like them. They need to know that all people have opportunities to serve and lead and that people who look like them are leaders, are teachers, are principals, are disciples of Jesus. 

NCEA is committed to support and to help develop the skills, knowledge and talents of all people who want to serve God by serving others in our Catholic schools. We know that there is much work and the laborers are few, but we know that as people who are passionate about children and our faith step forward, we will be successful in developing our students into saints and scholars.

Education Law Symposium 2021 Round-Up

The 19th annual Education Law Symposium (July 7 – 8), sponsored jointly by Loyola Marymount University School of Education Center for Catholic Education and the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), found 200-plus online participants engaged in learning with some of the nation’s top experts on Catholic school legal issues. Based on a post-symposium survey, the symposium was very well received with nearly 100 percent of attendees saying it was good to excellent.

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Session topics included:

  • Pandemic and post-pandemic realities for educators
  • Medical issues as students and staff return to in-person learning
  • Friend and fundraising in these times
  • Technology and legal realities
  • How to create an inclusive environment
  • Custody issues
  • Handbooks
  • School safety
  • Issues from the field
  • What beginning teachers need to know

Sister Dale McDonald, PBVM, Ph.D., NCEA Director of Public Policy and Educational Research, presented her always popular policy and legislative update, including information on current Supreme Court rulings as related to Catholic schools, COVID-19 funding availability and guidelines, Title funding, and much more.

A live panel of attorneys enabled participants to ask questions directly of practicing attorneys.

Current issues of interest were: returning to normal in a new normal, whether to require vaccinations of employees and students, documentation of vaccinations, sanitation requirements, handbook updates, emerging issues with child custody and how to meet the needs of students with learning differences. Issues of finance and tuition collection emerge even more strongly in the light of so many lost jobs and poverty spurred on by the pandemic. 

I was struck by the desire of Catholic administrators and teachers to remain true to the Gospel mandates, even in light of such trying times. We are certainly striving to “Teach as Jesus Did.”

It is not too late to sign up to experience the 2021 Education Law Symposium virtually for only $69. Full access to the sessions and prayers is available through August 8.

Mark your calendars for next year’s grand Twentieth Annual Education Law Symposium, offered in person at the famous Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. Opportunities for learning, dialogue, continuing education credits and the companionship we have so missed will abound.

Dates are July 7 – 10, 2022. Expect all your favorite experts and new ones as well for a grand celebration. Anyone interested in presenting, please contact me at Blessings on your new school year.

About the Author

Sister Angie Shaughnessy, SCN, JD, Ph.D., is a Sister of Charity of Nazareth. She is a nationally recognized expert on the law as it affects Catholic schools and Church ministry. She serves as a consultant to numerous dioceses and is a highly sought-after national speaker and the author of more than 30 texts. You can read her regular From the Field feature, Legal Issues, in Momentum.


The following blog was contributed by Lincoln Snyder, the new president/CEO of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA).

Parents don’t just want their children to be happy; they want their children to be heroes. 

One of the most distinct memories from my sixth grade year at St. John Vianney in Rancho Cordova, California was my mother playing the Joseph Campbell interview series The Power of Myth in the minivan on the way to school. A mythologist and the author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell was famous for positing the Hero’s Journey, and though finer points of Jungian psychology were lost to my middle school mind, the series had my attention at Star Wars. Campbell reinforced something at the core of what Catholic school was teaching me, and which I hold to be true: we find meaning in becoming part of a bigger narrative. 

A big part of leadership is storytelling; to quote Doctor Who, “we are all stories in the end, so make it a good one, eh?” For us as leaders in our system, we need to be telling stories that answer the question, to what end do we have Catholic schools? When I started my job as superintendent of schools in the Diocese of Sacramento, Bishop Jaime Soto was clear on his answer to that question: we are committed to forming servant-leaders in Christ. Our high schools in Sacramento all have mottos that reinforce this theme: St. Francis’ Graduating Young Women Who Change the World; Jesuit’s Men for Others; Christian Brothers’ Enter to Learn, Leave to Serve

Parents want their kids to be sports stars or academic stars or arts stars because that kind of heroism is part of the cultural narrative we live in; as Catholic educators, we know, of course, that we are part of a much bigger and older narrative. My mentor in Catholic school advancement work always used his speeches and letters to tell the story of one particular student – a local kid made good through Catholic education. And people respond to that story of the call to service; I believe it’s part of our wiring to do so. It echoes the story of a Kid from the provinces who was in the building trades until about thirty who then went on to be the greatest Hero of all time. You may have heard of Him…

Which brings me to the point about heroes. As a disciple, there’s only one kind of hero you will be, and that is a servant-leader in Christ. It’s what He modeled for us. In Catholic schools, we don’t hand out cheat sheets on servant-leadership; we say, commit to Him and it’s where you’ll end up. 

Think of this past year. I am convinced that this is a great time to be a Catholic school leader. If you want to be around heroes, just spend some time at a Catholic school. We moved to distance learning on a dime, and we were the first safely back to the classroom – and we stayed. Our teachers did this with no expectation of glory. But this year has been a glory, an Aristeia, a moment of excellence. Our teachers and leaders were valorous, and they were His kind of heroes – not Hector of the Bright Helm, but Ms. Miller of the Fourth Grade. 

There have been challenges and setbacks. We saw an initial drop in enrollment when COVID hit, and some of our schools have closed. But there is good news. We attracted more new friends to Catholic schools than in recent memory, and many of our schools and dioceses have grown. I am confident that our schools can grow. When I made my initial report to the school board as a new superintendent in Sacramento, I told them that we didn’t have a product problem, we had a marketing challenge. People didn’t understand what makes Catholic schools good and different and worthy of their investment. 

As a school leader, make it your mission to answer that question. A big part of my journey has been finding my own way to answer it. In a recent podcast conversation with Bishop Robert Barron, Dr. Jordan Peterson offered that young people leave the Church not because we ask too much of them, but because we ask too little. By asking too little of a child, you telegraph a lack of faith in their possibilities. We know how to ask something – the right thing – of kids. 

Many of our new families didn’t come to our schools for the faith. They came because we were safe, open and excellent. But now that they are with us, they are staying – about 90 percent of the families that came to Catholic school during COVID are re-enrolling for next year. They see what a difference a faith community makes in the lives of their students and they are happy to be a part of that story. 

One of the programs I’m proudest of in Sacramento is called Education in Virtue. My friend Sister John Dominic of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist is a genius who figured out how to teach St. Thomas Aquinas to six-year-olds. We teach six-year-olds servant-leadership as well, and what I like to tell them is this:

Jesus loves you so much that he’s going to ask you to do something great for someone else. 

He’s asking you, too. He’s asking us. I believe in this mission of making kids into heroes in His name, and I believe that with heroes like you, we can grow this mission. 

Thank you for saying yes to Him.

Don’t Let a Good Disruption Go to Waste

The following blog was contributed by Anne Schafer-Salinas, director of virtual learning at Incarnate Word High School in San Antonio, TX.

The 2020 – 2021 year is destined to be included in history books of the future. As the world emerges from pandemic living, schools are just as poised as any organization to learn from the last 15 months and shift where appropriate. 

Our goal as Catholic school educators is to prepare future generations to be compassionate, creative and collaborative. That is what we have inherited from the Brothers and Sisters who founded our schools. Education has always been a central tenet of our faith and the longevity of Catholic schools is a testament to the value placed upon education by our collective community. It is important that we find ways to offer the best of Catholic education while maintaining pace with global trends if we expect our campuses to thrive and prepare our students for the world that they will inherit.

This intersection of valued Catholic education and global evolution is what has propelled us to commit to offering a virtual campus in tandem with our brick-and-mortar school. The pandemic has highlighted that not all students thrive in a traditional setting and as Catholic educators, we have a responsibility to design innovative ways to serve our families. Families have also been able to capitalize on the mobility that virtual learning has offered. As the pandemic recedes in our country (thank you science!), schools are planning for the year ahead in what many are calling “a return to normalcy.” At Incarnate Word High School, we are taking advantage of the disruption to move ahead with a plan that had been in the pipeline to launch in a couple of years.  We are doing this with great intention. 

Our school, Incarnate Word High School in San Antonio, was founded by and is an active ministry of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word (CCVI Sisters). You can learn more about this amazing group of women online. In an interesting parallel, it was the cholera pandemic in Texas in 1869 that first brought the CCVI Sisters to the United States. As part of their commitment to “a life for God and a heart for others” the CCVI Sisters established several orphanages and schools. Over the past 140 years, IWHS has evolved as the needs changed: from a K-8 to an all-girls high school and eventually adding a university campus. Now another pandemic is propelling the school into its next iteration as we prepare to welcome our first virtual students this fall. The tradition entrusted to us by the CCVI Sisters of providing education to those who needed one has positioned Incarnate Word High School to successfully launch a virtual campus and continue to meet the needs of the young women seeking a strong Catholic education. 

Some schools will see what we are doing as challenging the status quo. I would offer, however, that we are continuing the legacy our founders instilled in us. We are providing an avenue that will allow more families to stay in the Catholic school system. There are many families who find that they cannot continue with a Catholic high school due to geography, health or accessibility. If Incarnate Word Virtual High School can create a pathway for some of these families to stay in the Catholic school system, it’s a win for all of us.

Many lessons have been learned in the last 15 months. It is what we do with those lessons that will define the next 15 months and beyond.

If you would like to connect and talk more about what we are doing here at Incarnate Word High School, please feel free to reach out. You can find me at: and on Twitter (@APAnnie7), LinkedIn and Clubhouse. To learn more about Incarnate Word High School, please visit our website:

Three Tips for Summer Rejuvenation

The following blog was contributed by Jill Annable, executive director for academic excellence at the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA).

“Trust. You do not have to know it all.” The words startled me. I was merely stepping out of noon Mass alongside an NCEA member superintendent while on a diocesan visit. The pastor stopped us in our tracks, pointed at me and said those words: “Trust. You do not have to know it all.” He felt it on his heart to tell me and I was reminded that the Holy Spirit speaks to us in this way if we are willing to listen. I did not personally know him and he was unaware of my visit, but his words were exactly what I needed.

Days later, I am still reflecting on its truth. For the past 15 months, we have each felt the pressure to know a little bit of everything, in fields well beyond education, in order to serve the families of our schools. For all of us collectively moving at this cheetah’s pace, what comes next?

We rest. We pray in thanksgiving. Reflect. Rejuvenate. Unable to slow your brain and unsure where to begin? Let’s focus on three strategies:

1. Put up the email vacation responder.

We all know you didn’t take any family vacation last summer. Instead, you were likely on weekly calls with your county health department and speed-writing a pandemic plan. You delivered a successful school year full of meaningful family partnership and academic excellence. We all recognize you cannot actually walk away from your inbox for eight solid weeks, but you can give yourself the mental permission to use an email vacation responder. Looking for an example? Try this one adapted from Michele Watson, principal of Holy Spirit Catholic School in Overland Park, Kansas, which reads:

We are all on a well-deserved and most needed summer break. Our summer hours are ___. I will be responding to email and voicemails intermittently throughout the summer. If you need something outside of our summer hours, please call ___.

It’s hard to argue with its honesty, and its message still attends to its recipients. Encourage your faculty and colleagues to follow suit.

2. Read for pleasure.

Last summer, each hour brought a new layer of crisis that seemingly required immediate reaction. We constantly scanned news feeds and obscure education blogs. In contrast, what’s on this summer’s reading list? In light of its five year anniversary, come back to encyclical letter Laudato Si’ while lying in a hammock. Ponder Philosophy 101 by Socrates for a few minutes each morning. Indulge in a mindless fictional summer mystery with your toes in the sand.

And if you must, read specifically in relation to your ministry in Catholic education. The NCEA bookstore has you covered.

3. Don’t know everything.

Hide your phone for the night. Eat outdoors. Sleep in. Skip the beauty routine. Laugh. Dodge the nightly news once or twice. Take the long route on a walk. Read the extra bedtime story your grandkids beg for. Order the double scoop. Most importantly, rejoice in the acceptance that none of us were called to know or do it all. And when the slower pace is difficult, turn to the Lord for help. Consider Psalm 139:4 as a good starting place: “Even before a word is on my tongue, Lord, You know it all.” Let Him carry you.

In time, the sounds and smells of back-to-school will trigger us back to the pace we know and love. Meanwhile, in this moment of pause and deep breath, we are reminded that none of us are useful to His work in Catholic education if we are tired and weary. Thank you for delivering one of the most remarkable school years to date. Enjoy the blessings that summer brings.

Marketing Your School Is Easier Than You Think

The following blog was contributed by Margaret Kaplow, director of marketing communications, public relations and publications manager at the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA).

Tell your story. How many times have you heard that? If you have a finger in marketing at your school, you have heard this plenty. The good news is there are stories to tell in every school and NCEA has a cadre of stories you can use as you please. This blog post is not a Marketing 101 refresher, but more a signpost pointing in the direction of good stories to tell.

Good news stories attract new enrollment, fundraising opportunities, help with retention, local business partnerships, alumni interest and support and much more.  Your stories are the best way to market your school. Whether you have a part-time volunteer parent or a full-time marketing team, marketing content can be easy to find.

Start with a quick review of your school’s channels for communication. They include:

  • Website
  • Email
  • Social Media
  • Print

Once they are up to date, you’re ready to tell the good news stories of your school community. For instance:

  • Was your school open for in-person classes when other schools were not? Make sure everyone knows that and publicly thank your teachers, staff and administrators who made that happen.
  • The fact that your school has applied to be a Blue Ribbon or Green Ribbon school or for any other local or national recognition needs to be announced to your school community, just as it will be when your school is awarded the honor.
  • The number of graduates entering highly regarded high schools or moving on to college or vocational schools needs to be shared.
  • The ratio of teachers to students in your school might be the information that sways families considering Catholic school for their children.
  • The number of service projects and the names of the organizations can go a long way to helping your community understand the importance of service in Catholic education.
  • Do you have regular Masses for your school? Post the days and times and invite the community and prospective families.
  • Introducing new curriculum? How about sharing that on all your channels?
  • A schedule of professional development dates and titles tells prospective families that your school is engaged and relevant.  

There are plenty of good news stories to go around in the halls and classrooms, athletic fields and courts of your school. But if you are looking for other ideas, NCEA has some to consider: 

  • For 20 years the NAEP results have showed that Catholic schools consistently outperform public and other private schools in national assessments. Your entire community, current and prospective, needs to know this.
  • The Catholic Schools Week Year-Round Marketing Kit is a great tool to help your school devise a marketing plan that can be worked all through the school year. It also contains infographics that can be posted to your channels.
  • The data brief on New Students in Catholic Schools contains data to make your marketing message stand out for enrollment, retention and activism. This is also a great source of data on parent satisfaction.
  • Distribute the link to the NCEA Book Store to your students’ families so they can access some of the same books and resources being read and used by faculty and staff. 
  • The infographic on Catholic school data is a great visual on the highlights of Catholic schools in the U.S. And the information can be parceled out one piece of info at a time to keep your channels busy and your community informed and prospective families intrigued.

Tell your story. Put your good news to work for you.

Wondering where to go for college? A new directory of Catholic colleges and universities may help

The following blog was contributed by Quentin Wodon, the volunteer team lead for the Global Catholic Education website.

In some countries, those considering enrolling in a Catholic college or university may have a choice between a few universities or none at all. In the United States, they have a choice between up to 250 Catholic colleges and universities (depending on which institutions are included). This provides a rich array of choices, but to make a sound decision on where to apply and enroll, information is needed.

A new directory published by the Global Catholic Education project and co-sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) might help. By providing detailed data on all Catholic colleges and universities as well as links to their websites, the directory makes it easier for prospective students to conduct their search. In addition, the directory provides insights on four questions that most prospective students have: (1) Should I go to college?; (2) How should I select a college?; (3) How can I compare different colleges?; and finally (4) Should I go to a Catholic college? While each individual student must answer those questions for himself or herself, information provided in the directory may be useful.

1. Should I Go to College? Enrolling in college may not be the right choice for everybody, and unfortunately, college remains difficult to afford for too many youth in the United States. Still, about two thirds of young people in the United States decide to enroll in higher education institutions according to the latest available statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of 3.2 million youth ages 16 to 24 who graduated from high school between January and October 2019, 2.1 million (66.2%) were enrolled in college in October of that year. In addition, many older adults also go to college.

Going to college is a privilege, as well as a great opportunity which can bring lifelong rewards. In comparison to workers with only a high school diploma, those with a college degree tend (on average) to have higher earnings, better job opportunities, lower unemployment rates, higher job satisfaction rates, and the list goes on. For example, the latest data available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that workers with a bachelor’s degree make approximately $500 more in median weekly earnings than those with only a high school diploma (an increase of two thirds versus the pay level for high school graduates). The disadvantages faced by those without a college degree have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic which has disproportionately affected low income workers.

2. How Should I Select a College? While each student is indeed unique, it may be interesting for students to know about the priorities of other students, and whether there are differences in the priorities of students who chose to enroll in Catholic colleges and universities in comparison to all college freshmen. Data from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) Freshman Survey suggest that the most important factors leading freshmen to enroll in a Catholic college are as follows: (1) This college has a very good academic reputation (71.8%); (2) This college’s graduates get good jobs (67.3%); (3) I was offered financial assistance (65.5%); (4) The academic reputation of my intended major (59.0%); and (5) A visit to this campus (54.7%); (6) This college has a good reputation for its social and extracurricular activities (52.4%); (7) I wanted to go to a school about the size of this college (49.7%); and (8) The cost of attending this college (48.7%). The other reasons are cited by less than 40% of students.

Interestingly, the largest differences in priorities for selecting a college between students going to Catholic institutions and all students relate to: (1) Financial assistance (more than 9 in 10 students in Catholic colleges benefit from financial assistance); (2) College size (many Catholic colleges have small or medium size enrollment, which is seen as a plus); (3) Employment prospects (many Catholic colleges have strong placement records, which is one of the reasons why student debt default rates are much lower among graduates from Catholic institutions than nationally); (4) Faith affiliation (this is a key criteria for one in five students in Catholic colleges); and (5) Advice from professors (professors in Catholic colleges tend to care about their students – this is part of the institutions’ ethos).

3. How Can I Compare Colleges? All Catholic colleges and universities – and one could argue most colleges in general including those that are not Catholic – aim to provide a comprehensive education for the whole person. Prospective students should carefully look at the websites of the colleges they are considering to understand their programs, the courses being taught, who is teaching those courses, the opportunities for extracurricular activities or internships, distance learning options, and exchange programs, among others. Ideally, students should make visits to campuses they are interested in, although this might not be feasible, especially for international or out-of-state students.

Given that career prospects do matter for students when selecting a college or university, and that going to college is one of the largest financial investments people make in their lifetime, prospective students should also do their homework in terms of the job prospects that might be available to them depending on both the university and the major they choose. The good news is that data on those outcomes are now readily available from the College Scorecard. If you type the name of a specific college or university in the College Scorecard search field, you will be provided by a wide range of information among others on graduation rates, expected salaries, tuition costs, and debt levels as well as default rates. The Scorecard enables users to compare up to 10 universities or 10 fields of study.

Catholic colleges and universities do well (on average) on the various measures provided by the College Scorecard in comparison to other institutions. But to facilitate comparisons, the directory provides in an annex detailed data on selected variables for all Catholic colleges and universities. What the directory does not do is to rank colleges and universities. While some rankings may provide valuable information to prospective students, they often also have perverse effects.

4. Should I Go to a Catholic College? Of the four questions, this is the most difficult one for which to provide insights based on data, because it depends so much on the particular priorities of individual students. But a few pointers can be provided. There are no measures of the quality of the education provided by colleges that are available for most institutions and widely accepted. Yet what seems clear is that many Catholic colleges place an emphasis on the quality of teaching. Many Catholic colleges also try to make their education affordable to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This does not mean that they always succeed, but the preferential option for the poor is a key aspect of Catholic social thought that also permeates Catholic higher education. In addition, beyond universities that enroll many students, many institutions are small liberal arts colleges which again emphasize the quality of the education provided. Of all Catholic colleges and universities, more than one third are liberal arts colleges.

Catholic colleges and universities do place an emphasis on faith and values, but this is not forced upon students. In some Catholic colleges and universities, most students are Catholics. In others, a minority are. Nationally, two-fifths of students in Catholic colleges and universities are Catholic. In practice, if a student is interested in exploring or deepening his or her faith, whether Catholic or otherwise, there is no doubt that resources are available to do so in Catholic colleges and universities. But if this is not the student’s priority, that’s OK as well in most colleges. Finally, one interesting aspect of the Catholic ethos is that it encourages collaboration as opposed to competition. This is often the case in the classroom, but also in research and other activities that professors engage in. Because of this emphasis and the affinities that a common worldview affords, there are many examples of collaborations across Catholic colleges and universities. This can provide an added layer in students’ experiences, as can the fact that service to others is valued on campus, with typically a wide range of opportunities for volunteer work and a willingness of many students to engage.