Program Rationale and Plan

Need and Impact

We believe the Parents as Teachers of Faith is a game changer for our schools and parishes. It has an immense potential impact; strengthening Catholic families, equipping Catholic parents, building Catholic school enrollment, improving the school environment, and preparing students for success from the beginning. This is accomplished for a relatively small cost and is easily scalable.
This program will fill a pressing need. Catholic education is becoming less affordable. St. Ann School has seen an average tuition increase of 2.55% over the past five years while the consumer price index has grown at an average annual rate of 1.66% over the same period. This is a long-term trend. From the 2004-05 school year to the 2008-09 school year the average Catholic school tuition increased by 29%, while the cumulative inflation rate from 2004-2009 was only 13.6%. Not only has tuition grown faster than other consumer prices, the wages for potential parents have stayed basically stagnant. The concentration of wage increases at the top of the income spectrum means many young families have seen almost no real wage growth. This increases the proportion of income asked of young families to pay tuition.
Enrollment numbers drive the fiscal feasibility of parish schools. Tuition increases are driven by increasing fixed costs. At St. Ann 81% of expenditures are personnel. Each classroom requires a teacher whether 12 students or 30 students are paying tuition in that classroom. Empty seats are lost income opportunities that need to be paid for by current families who are already being asked to give a larger share of their income for tuition than parents half a generation ago.
Early Childhood programs have become common practice at many Catholic schools. These are often important means for stabilizing enrollment. Through these programs schools engage parents and bring them into the community before free public school alternatives begin. Parents choose private schools based on environment more than test schools. In one study over half of parents cited “student discipline” and “learning environment” as top reasons for choosing private education.
Many parents do not feel private education to be attainable. 53% of Americans rate their school district with a grade of C, D, or F. 42% of school parents prefer that their child be enrolled in a private school. This desire does not reflect reality, only 17% of students attend schools other than the public schools. Parents, particularly young parents, are willing to work to fund their child’s education, 32% of Millennial parents have taken other jobs for additional income to support their child’s education. When families have been introduced to the school and buy in, they will stay if a quality product is offered, only 1% of families surveyed who changed their child’s school listed cost as a reason. If we can introduce families to the idea of Catholic school early, help them understand it is attainable, and demonstrate a superior school environment, many parents are willing to make the sacrifices to attend a Catholic School.
The Parents as Teachers in Faith program will build connections between Catholic families and the school community from early in life. This will introduce families to the school community and help them understand that Catholic education is attainable and worthwhile. The program will engage potential students at an earlier age and engage families in the no pressure relationship with the school over a variety of years.
Catholics are most parish school’s primary audience. Archdiocese-wide the “kindergarten capture rate,” the approximate percentage of children baptized as infants who start kindergarten at a Catholic School in the Archdiocese, has remained stable at about 48%. Baptized Catholics already enroll in Catholic schools at a higher rate than the general population. They are potential clients for whom we have contact information. Oftentimes many parishes fail to leverage this contact information. In many industries, a book of leads, particularly high quality leads who have an almost 50% conversion rate, is a very valuable asset. Catholic churches often do very little with this information before kindergarten enrollment about 4 ½ years after baptism. In many cases this action simply involves sending a postcard. Archdiocese-wide investments in this demographic will have great returns as Catholics compose about 89% of parochial school kindergarten students. If we can increase the kindergarten capture rate for Catholics by 5% total enrollment will go up around 9%. Parents as Teachers in Faith targets these potential students and build relationships with the parish.
Building these relationships is not strictly limited to Catholics. Many non-Catholic parents are looking for support from their community as well. As a privately run spiritually focused support program that supplements the public school’s efforts, Parents as Teachers in Faith, will be well positioned to reach local poor communities that deeply spiritual and disillusioned by failing schools. Relying on referrals from existing families, advertisements placed in local publications, and working with families already in our early childhood programs, Parents as Teachers in Faith will be able to introduce more non-Catholic families to our school communities. It will also be able to help families understand that a Catholic education is desirable, attainable, and realistic for their child.
The enrollment function of the program will be very low-pressure marketing. The goal is to build awareness of the school with “soft sell” methodologies like mentioning the school as a partner in the program and hosting meetings in the kindergarten room. The program will also show the value of faith based education. In one study of scholarship recipients in Georgia 62% of parents named religious instruction as a reason for choosing a private school. Over half of Americans still list religion as “very important” in their lives. This number has stayed constant even as religious service attendance and religious affiliation have declined. People affiliated with historically black protestants denominations typically have more traditional views about sexuality than Catholics. As public schools increasingly become battlefields over the meaning of human sexuality, and as many feel uncertainty, religious schools will appear more important to people of all faiths.
Building enrollment in our Catholic schools is a complicated problem that requires a multifaceted approach in a variety of programs and efforts. The Parents as Teachers in Faith program will supplement efforts such as marketing programs and scholarships. Measuring the effectiveness of any of these programs can be difficult. Even with the multimillion dollar scholarship programs, Alive in Christ and Beyond Sunday, it can be difficult to detect any impact on kindergarten enrollment. Even though there are many other variables involved, we anticipate larger kindergarten classes because of this program. Statistically significance may be hard to prove.
There are few and mostly limited programs that reach out to families of infants. Some churches run nursery programs at Mass and others run daycares. A few publishers, most notably Our Sunday Visitor, offer a baptismal follow-up program that allows parishes to mail additional resources to parents of young children. None of these programs involve getting into the homes or even directly contacting parents. As a direct and affordable interaction with parents of potential students, the Parents as Teachers in Faith program serves a need that is not being met in our enrollment efforts.
As Catholics Schools, Catholic children are not only a major source of enrollment, but a major part of our mission. The need for Catholic identity in our schools and school families is not as visibly measurable as the need for enrollment. Yet it is more significant.
This program will fill a pressing need. Most parishes could do more for young families. Parents present their children for baptism, and after a short class, the next formal offering for the family is preschool beginning around age three or four. The period between baptism and preschool is prime for building spiritual discipline. Even deeply faithful parents can feel lost when considering how to share their faith with a young child. In one study, 78% of parents thought that parenting is harder than ever. Parents are looking for help, there are over 35,000 parenting books listed on Amazon. There are many dozens of those dedicated to Catholic parenting, hundreds dedicated to Christian or spiritual parenting. There are hundreds of Catholic parenting blogs. Parents are hungry for help. The program will impact Catholic identity in our schools by reaching into the home at the point where parents are most open to growing in faith as the primary educators of their children.
For many parents the baptism of their first child is their first real interaction with the church on a personal level for what may have been years. Faced with the task of raising a new life, parents are well aware of the religious education they received as well as the value emotional and spiritual of the traditions they experienced. Many Catholic young people have notional ideas of sharing their faith with their children, even if they are not really living their faith. When their child is born, these notions become responsibilities. Most parents take the idea of raising their children in the faith that they’ve committed to at the time of baptism, saying as much multiple times publicly during the rite of baptism itself, seriously. Yet this new interest in faith comes at a time when the practice of the faith is more challenging than it had been. Bring a baby or toddler to church can be very challenging.
While there are some catechesis programs for infants and toddlers, mostly given on site at a Catholic Early Childhood center, these programs are expensive to setup and have limited capacity because they require low staff to child ratios. There are also home-schooling and Catholic parenting/mothering groups, but these have a high barrier to entry for those who do not yet belong to this sub-culture.
The Parents as Teachers in Faith program intends to fill this gap in catechesis. It will be available to families with young children identified by parishes as a follow up to baptism and through referrals by existing school families. The goal of our program is to aggressively outreach to these families to help them do what they already intend to do.
Families will not necessarily all be Catholic, as most content will be valuable to any Christian family. Even with declining religious service attendance, nationally 60% of children attended some religious instruction or youth group. Even the secular want to be good moral examples to their children, for example cutting out swearing while pregnant. A substantial number of non-Catholics will be interested our offering that provide parent needed support in nurturing their children spiritually, morally, emotionally, and through the current Parent as Teacher model structure intellectually. While introducing parents to the Catholic education system and building connections to the parish community, the curriculum will provide practical skills and resources for teaching the faith in early childhood such as; projects to live the liturgical year, demonstration of reading Bible stories and simple prayers, and advice for taking children to church.
The goal is not to replace or even compete with existing Parents as Teachers programs. Parents as Teachers of Faith will dovetail the district’s Parents as Teachers programs, covering some basic parenting skills and enhancing the curriculum with Catholic teaching, particularly the development of virtues and use of restorative practices in discipline. We have additional information to offer parents of all faiths even about discipline and development. Not being associated with a failing school district, but rather the Catholic Church, largest charity in the world, might give our program a foot in the door in homes the publicly funded program might not be able to reach. Our staff will be trained to make referrals to a variety of services including the local Parents as Teachers program.
While the impact of the program will be best measured by following students from birth through the program into middle school, the proposed pilot, by starting at age two instead of birth, is designed to provide measurable impact in two years. Only one year of curriculum will be developed and implemented at a time contingent on success and funding.
Catholic identity is difficult to measure. As part of the Alive in Christ initiative the Catholic Education Center was asked to develop and establish benchmarks for standards of excellence for academics and faith formation. This is an ongoing five-year project. Most schools rely on the ACRE test, taken in 6th and 8th grade to measure catechesis and Catholic identity. It would be almost a decade before our first class of parents as teachers and faith students will take this test. We will need to develop Catholic early childhood benchmarks and assessments. Initially, impact will need to be addressed via self-assessment with surveys of parents. These surveys will ask about religious service attendance, prayer, religious imagery and materials in the home, and discipline. We intend to see a greater than 80% of participants reporting increased prayer with their child, a greater than 50% reporting greater comfort with discipline, and 30% reporting increased attendance at religious services. Beyond self-reporting, we will look at models such as the HOME, Home Observation Measurement of the Environment, to develop standardized observational assessments. We will keep careful records so a longitudinal study of participants can be developed as quickly as possible.
In addition to the concrete goals of increasing enrollment and the less concrete but still measurable goal of increasing Catholic identity, the program will also help in harder to measure ways with teacher retention and student achievement. The existing publicly funded Parents as Teachers program already has had a measurable impact on student achievement and student behavior. Better behaved students and better performing students with more engaged parents brings improvements to academic outcomes and teacher retention as well. The overall value of preschool education is debated in academic circles. The value of whole family home-based outreach such as the Parents as Teachers program is well established. Home-based or wraparound programs are some of the most effective early childhood interventions we can offer. As part of making our schools and preschools centers of excellence a wraparound program such as Parents as Teachers in Faith is a critical component for success.
Measuring the long-term impact on student behavior and performance, school climate and teacher satisfaction will be difficult to do in beyond self-reporting for the duration of the grant. We will develop a survey instrument for parents and teachers to access key indicators checking them against students who did not participate in the program.
The success of home-based early childhood interventions is well documented. Simply contacting families to offer the program will help accomplish important school marketing and enrollment goals. Over the course of the grant period the visits and programs will be carefully documented and materials and procedures will be honed based on feedback from facilitators and participants.
One concern with the success of these home-based interventions listed in a recent DHHS study of programs is that highly tailored programs built for specific poor communities are sometimes not replicated by spin off programs. Our model program, Parents as Teachers, has been shown to be highly replicable. Therefore, beyond the expertise of the staff, the sponsoring schools are the key. The sponsoring schools represent a community that is very diverse. By the completion of the pilot program the curriculum will have been used for and adapted based on feedback from white, black, and Hispanic families (including the development of Spanish language materials), professionals, skilled laborers, and service employees, parents who were very young at first birth and parents much older, nuclear families, single parents, and grandparents raising children as well as non-Catholic Christian families. Our goal is to demonstrate efficacy with this cross section of the St. Louis community so that the program is sustainable and replicable by other parishes. This immense diversity of feedback will give program staff needed information to refine the programs.


The collaboration in this project is between St. Ann Catholic School in Normandy and Holy Trinity Catholic School in St. Ann. Both are highly diverse parish based Catholic schools that serve a large geographical area in northwest St. Louis County. Each school will be a partner in the program. To ensure that the program is replicable the program will not be based on the personalities involved in the school. Rather each school will oversee the development and implemented individually through their early childhood center staff. The majority of the grant will go to funding a position for a full-time staff person to write the curriculum and train the program staff followed by this staff member going part-time during the pilot to oversee and implement the program based on revisions and feedback. This staff member will be overseen by the principles and pastors of the two cooperating schools. As this position requires flexibility, is a short-term position with a long-term opportunity for part-time employment to follow, and it requires a lot of expertise and experience in early childhood education, the position has not been filled. On a spiritual level, we believe God will provide us with the applicant we need to fulfill his mission in this program. On the practical level, the most qualified, dedicated, and available person would likely not be able to commit this far in advance of the grant period. A new position is necessary because writing curriculum is a specialized role that to provide measurable results within the grant period needs to be done quickly that is full-time. No qualified school staff has the time to take on another 40 hour a week job. The staff of the participating schools are also highly qualified if not uniquely qualified to make this program a success. Overseeing this work will be the school principals. Mr. Jacob Reft, principal at St. Ann School, is certified in special education from birth to grade three. He has experience working in St. Louis City the Public Schools and a passion for Catholic education. Mrs. Margaret Ahle is a longtime and respected principal and the Archdiocese. She has been involved in development and implementation of the revolutionary program of Virtue-Based Restorative Discipline (VBRD) since the very beginning. Teaching parents how to discipline children in restorative ways that encourage virtue, basically the tenets of VBRD, will be a key part of the program curriculum. She is working on her masters in restorative discipline, and her expertise in this area will be of critical importance. Rev. Nick Winker the parochial administrator of St. Ann is deeply dedicated to the program and has taken the lead on this grant proposal. Mrs. Beth Gutzler is the grant coordinator for Holy Trinity School and an instructor in the early childhood center. She will be a facilitator for the program, bringing another expert in restorative practices to the group. Mrs. Gutzler, Fr. Winker, and Mr. Reft are close in age to the target parents. Mr. Reft and Mrs. Gutzler have toddlers at home.
Suzanne Coffey, MA LPC, a trusted Catholic family therapist with almost two decades of experience as a Parents as Teachers teacher and program coordinator in both poor and affluent school districts, has committed to serving as a consultant to the program. Mrs. Coffey also worked on staff at Holy Trinity parish as a therapist before going into private practice and knows the community and neighborhood well.
We have been offered the opportunity to meet with the leadership of a similar program, Jewish Parents as Teachers. We will meet with them once a curriculum author is brought on board.
Several others in hearing about the project have offered their services in an advisory role including: a parish PSR director who is also an instructor of education at University of Missouri St. Louis and PSR director, for a very large PSR, who also spent a career starting preschools for the YMCA. A child specialist with a local Catholic home for women and children who is also a certified teacher.
As the program will be school-based, if either partner school where to close or merge the program could continue as written. Another partner school could also be added as a replacement, if needed.
Budget for FY18 and FY19
The ability to replicate the program and other parishes is an important goal. Therefore, the sustainability of the program cannot rely on further grant income. We’re not seeking any additional funding beyond this grant. After the end of the grant, having seen the results we anticipate, each school will only have to pay a small amount, five to seven thousand dollars in stipends to facilitators to continue the program.
After the successful completion of the pilot program we will look for funding sources to expand the curriculum to cover the full course from birth to kindergarten and well as support visits for enrolled students up to third grade.
If the grant is not funded, the program will be substantially scaled-back if not dissolved. Neither school has the funding to be able to pay for the rapid development of the program as described in the grant. A small program of home visits is likely to be developed at least one of the schools, but curriculum development would be very slow. There is a remote chance that a fiscally stable suburban school would be willing to invest the money to hire a coordinator in collaboration with applicant schools or a potential program director would volunteer. Neither scenario is very likely. While the evidence all points to the potential for a highly successful program, the investment for such a transformational program will most likely have to come from outside ordinary school budgets.
If the grant is partially funded the director would be hired as a part-time position. This would slow down the development of the program.
This program is a transformational innovation that fits well with the purpose of the Beyond Sunday Transformational Innovation grant program. This program increases Catholic Identity by teaching parents how to be better teachers of the faith. It is also a new and additional innovative approach to fostering enrollment. Importantly, after it is developed it can be easily applied throughout the Catholic education system.
This program corresponds well with the priorities laid out by the Archbishop as part of the strategic plans and mission advanced initiative Alive in Christ and BeOne. It serves to improve Catholic identity and Catholic school enrollment in an innovative way. In accordance with Alive In Christ Objective 2.1 it is collaboration between schools. Also by reaching out to the baptized before enrollment in schools the program will build parish and school links that are increasingly important as schools serve more parishes.
A program specifically like this is one of the Archbishop’s priorities for Evangelization as part of Alive in Christ: “Providing outreach programs for parents after a child is baptized to welcome them into the parish community, offer resources for the education and faith formation of their pre-school children and reserve a place for them in the parish school. (Goal 2. Evangelization. Objective 4.)” Our proposed program is the best approach to this challenge. It is based on a proven methodology. It is even more ambitious than the proposed action steps. It is specifically directed to parents instead of merely inviting parents to events directed to people in other stages of life. Appointments are made on commission to insure parents are invited. It can also scale to cover a whole Archdiocese quickly and cheaply once the program is developed. Large school districts already administer PAT programs easily and efficiently. Costs are low per parish as educators are paid per family.
Alive in Christ Objective 3.1 calls for improved adult education programs. Parents of young children are often unable to attend the adult education programs the parishes offer. These programs often do not address the most pressing concerns of these parents. With both in-home and at-school events parents will receive tailored catechesis and the opportunity to interact with other parents sharing similar values and stage of life all packaged in a way that focuses on their children. Of value is the fact that the program will be bi-lingual. We believe this program is one of the best ways to accomplish action steps 2 and 3 for this objective. It will make an excellent pilot for lending from the Religious Education Media Center with built in follow up and personalized suggestions from program staff. It is also specifically dedicated to “[assisting] parents in fulfilling their responsibilities as the first and primary teachers of their children in the faith.”
As both schools serve diverse communities with large numbers of the poor and marginalized, from the beginning this program will be a natural extension of the Archdiocese’s commitment to social justice. Specifically, this matches with Goal 3, Objective 1, Action Step 1: “Design and implement a process to reach out to persons in the groups of concern to invite them into Catholic schools and to describe the resources available to enable their needs to be met in a Catholic school.” As St. Ann depends deeply on non-Catholics for enrollment, a major share of the participants in the pilot program will be non-Catholic and predominantly poor. As the Catholic Church is recognized these communities as a major force for good, and as our facilitators do not represent failing schools districts and are not governmental forces that might be hostile, we will be able to reach and provide resources to families that might not ordinarily be reached. Our program staff will be to build relationships and make referrals to social services that will help the marginalized reach their full potential.
Ultimately, our Parents in Teachers of Faith facilitators are missionary disciples, the first priority of the BeOne Initiative. They will be going into people’s homes bringing the gospel in a way that is understandable and attainable. Parents are very willing to sacrifice for their children, often more willing to sacrifice for their children then for their own spiritual wellbeing. By teaching parents how to teach the faith we will not only be forming the next generation of Catholics but evangelizing the parents, in their homes and in small attainable steps. Also by going into the homes of non-Catholics will be sharing the story of our church and the work that we do and inviting them to join us in Catholic schools.
This program fits well with the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools as an excellent way to achieve objectives:
4.2 The leader/leadership team and faculty assist parents/ guardians in their role as the primary educators of their children in faith
4.3 The leader/leadership team collaborates with other institutions (for example, Catholic Charities, Catholic higher education, religious congregation-sponsored programs) to provide opportunities for parents/ guardians to grow in the knowledge and practice of the faith.
This grant proposal would fund the development of the first phase of the Parents as Teachers in Faith program to cover two years starting with the beginning of FY 18 on 7/1/2017. To have the maximum immediate impact, we will first develop the program for the two-year-old and three-year-old age groups. Following on a successful pilot we hope to develop the remaining curriculum and expand down to birth and up to five years old.
The program will be available to families with young children identified by parishes as a follow up to baptism and through referrals by existing school families. Families will not necessarily all be Catholic, as most content will be valuable to any Christian family. Staff will provide parents needed support in nurturing their children spiritually, morally, emotionally, and through the PAT structure intellectually. While introducing parents to the Catholic education system and building connections to the parish community, the curriculum will provide practical skills and resources for teaching the faith in early childhood such as; projects to live the liturgical year, demonstration of reading Bible stories and simple prayers, and advice for taking children to church. Parents as Teachers of Faith will dovetail the district’s Parents as Teachers programs, covering some basic parenting skills and enhancing the curriculum with Catholic teaching, particularly the development of virtues and use of restorative practices in discipline. The goal is not to replace the public program but to supplement it. Some families, particularly in failing school districts are likely to prefer working with the private program and after building trust we can refer them to public services. The program content that is not strictly faith related is oriented around presenting a holistic view of the child to the parent. The discipline content offers a faith context, VBRD principles, to disciplinary decisions. The academic content will offer faith activities that involve learning skills such as reading bible stories or learning prayers.
The program will include home-based early childhood intervention with a focus on helping families create a Christ-like environment at home while building the desire to continue Catholic education for their children. These interventions are conversational. Facilitators teach parents about a child’s spiritual development and provide ideas and resources. The program will also include four events per age cohort hosted at the schools for participants each year.
With the announcement of the grant award in March 2017, we will begin accepting applications for the role of director. This hiring decision will be made by consensus of the administrators of the participating schools. This person will begin work full time on July 1, 2017 with the task of assembling the curriculum. The program director will make several home visits and pilot a school based event in late summer of 2017. The program director will train facilitators selected by the school administrators to being the first round of visits in October 2017 with facilitator visits beginning in November. A complete draft of the curriculum will be in place by January 1, 2018. The director will transition to part-time to begin the process of refining the program while overseeing facilitators. During the winter and spring of 2018 there will be additional visits and events. Visits will continue over the summer and the director will focus on developing assessment instruments to evaluate Catholic identity and the application of virtue based restorative discipline principles for program assessment. The iterative process of improvement and expansion will continue until the end of fiscal year 2019 on June 30, 2019.
When funding is depleted, 7/1/19, the program director position will be eliminated and each school will conduct visits, paying facilitators on a per-visit basis, allowing pastors and school administrators to direct the implementation of the program in their parish and school. These can be funded from the early childhood center budget as a marketing effort. Many families would be willing to pay for the program.
We believe the Parents as Teachers of Faith is a game changer for our schools and parishes. It has an immense potential impact; strengthening Catholic families, equipping Catholic parents, building Catholic school enrollment, improving the school environment, and preparing students for success from the beginning. This is accomplished for a relatively small cost and is easily scalable. Once the initial curriculum is written it can be easily applied to parishes and schools by simply hiring new facilitators who receive training we have established in this pilot program.