Many Catholic schools are looking for avenues to boost enrollment. St. John Vianney School in Brookfield has implemented a marketing approach with a recently unveiled “Embrace a Year of Faith: New Student Enrollment Promotion,” an invitation to families whose children attend other area schools.Eighth-graders Rae Davel, left, and Jordan Roberts converse during English class at St. John Vianney School in Brookfield on Monday, Jan. 21. Roberts recently moved from Kansas, and began his first day at St. John Vianney School on Friday. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)

Inspired by the “Year of Faith” celebration introduced by Pope Benedict XVI, St. John Vianney School is encouraging parishioners whose children do not attend the parish school, and other families concerned about increased enrollment at other local elementary schools, to consider making a mid-year change.

Students who transfer to St. John Vianney now through the end of the current school year are being offered a deep discount for their Catholic school education – 33 percent off prorated tuition.

Seeds for the program were planted prior to the start of the school year when Kathleen Cepelka, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, called a meeting of principals. She presented a three-fold challenge — participate, proclaim and pray — to the school leaders based on the Year of Faith: Participate in Year of Faith events. Proclaim the Gospel. Pray often.

As Cepelka outlined each course of action, the second challenge, “proclaim the Gospel,” struck a chord with St. John Vianney principal, Pam Pyzyk.

“For five days a week and 10 months a year, students from diverse backgrounds come into our care, seeking, however unknowingly, evangelization,” Cepelka explained. “The command of Jesus, ‘Go, make disciples of all nations,’ applies particularly to us.”

Pyzyk reflected on her school’s enrollment and pondered ways to reach more students.

Enrollment on decline

According to Cepelka, the last decades have shown a decrease in Catholic school enrollment. One reason for the downturn is economic demands on parents, leaving little room in family budgets to pay private school tuition. A second explanation is the “burden on schools to provide a just and generous wage to highly committed lay employees,” Cepelka said. Religious sisters used to represent the majority of the faculty, receiving a stipend at best, she said.Principal Pam Pyzyk, left, and new parents Ryan and Sharon Roberts observe an art class at St. John Vianney School, Brookfield, on Friday, Jan. 18. The Roberts, who moved to Wisconsin from Kansas, recently enrolled their children at St. John Vianney. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)

Lastly, “parents need to be re-educated about the value of Catholic education,” Cepelka said. Catholic schools offer the same superior quality as years ago, education that is “orderly, purposeful and faith-based.”

Newer buildings constructed on public school grounds may attract some families, but while Catholic school buildings are “more humble,” Gospel values, outstanding teachers and academic excellence remain, she said.

Crafting a campaign

Ever mindful of Cepelka’s words on spreading the Gospel and of the challenges of decreasing enrollment, Pyzyk and the school board advancement committee wrote a proposal in collaboration with the school board finance committee. Once the proposal was complete, it was presented to the full school board, parish administrative services, finance committee and parish council. Approval was granted.

School leaders who created the new marketing campaign are pleased to see their plan come to fruition, and are excited for the opportunity to offer Catholic education to a larger community.

“As Catholic educators, we realize the important role we play in the evangelization of our students,” Pyzyk said. With school enrollment at 484 approximately 91 percent of the school’s capacity of 532, “we are marketing from a position of strength, but we have … additional opportunities” to proclaim the Gospel to children and their families, she said.

The enrollment incentive is being marketed through direct mail with colorful, eye-catching postcards. The campaign is also represented in the school newsletter, on Catholic Schools Week materials, and through direct contact with families participating in Christian formation activities at St. John Vianney. Ads have also been placed on the parish website and in the bulletin and e-newsletter.

“Marketing as we know it today is much different. We have a very proactive campaign,” said Toni Kroeplin, advancement committee chair and school parent. She has a message for prospective families.

“If ever they find they are missing something from their current school, or if they are searching for something more, we’ll be there for them,” she said.

Three families have already taken advantage of the program. School parent Sharon Roberts recently enrolled her three children.

“When I called St. John Vianney to find out if they had openings for our kids, they said they had room and that they were running a promotion. I didn’t look any further after that,” she said.

Opening the door of faith

As St. John Vianney reaches out to families who may be looking for a sense of community with a faith-centered focus, school leaders look to Pope Benedict XVI for guidance.

In “Porta Fidei” (“Door of Faith”), Apostolic Letter for the Induction of the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict wrote, “The ‘door of faith’ (Acts 14:27) is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his church.”

The St. John Vianney community wants people to know the door of faith at their school is open to all who wish to provide their children with a faith-based education. The new student enrollment promotion is set to make the threshold easier to cross, they explained.