Schools call families to
greater engagement this year

Amanda Wolz, business and development manager of St. Gabriel Church, escorted St. Gabriel School students across the lot on the first day school Aug. 18. (Record Photo by Jennifer Jenkins)

During the 2021-2022 school year, which began in earnest this week, the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Catholic schools intend to pursue the level of excellence for which they’re known.

They are National Blue Ribbon Schools, they continuously update their own school improvement plans and right now the Office of Catholic Schools is preparing for its five-year accreditation review.

But beyond that, the superintendent said in a recent interview, the overarching focus this year will be on re-engaging the “whole child” and the larger school and parish community.

“You’re going to see the academics, the teaching, the accreditation, the professional development, but fundamental to our mission and best practice of teaching the whole child is engagement,” said Dr. Mary Beth Bowling, who became superintendent in July.

After 18 months of pandemic living, she said, “rebuilding our schools and parish community to be engaged” is critical.

“We need the support of one another; it’s not OK to opt-out. We need you there in all layers of our Catholic Church,” she said, speaking to all those involved in a school community. “If I am a member of whatever group it is, if I’m on the sidelines, I’m not going to grow.”

Amy Nall, the archdiocese’s new assistant superintendent, saw firsthand last year how the pandemic affected student and community engagement. At the time, she was an administrator at Sacred Heart Academy.

“In some ways, Zoom and Teams (online platforms local schools used to teach students at home) made it easy to seem engaged. ‘I’m tuned in, I’m on.’ But you can’t authentically engage,” she said. “We were removed from the community. Relationship is the foundation of the community. At the base of everything we do as a Catholic community is relationship.”

Rebuilding community, she and Bowling agreed, is the challenge this school year.

Bowling said the need to increase engagement and community building aren’t new challenges for the Catholic community.

“It was exacerbated by COVID,” she said. Families often have reasons to skip Mass. For instance, “ ‘I’m too busy.’ We can all find excuses not to be engaged.”

Bowling wants families to know, “It matters if you are there.” Catholic schools plan to be intentional about inviting families to be engaged, she added.

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