By Tanya Connor | The Catholic Free Press
There’s more than one way of sharing the good news about our Catholic schools today.
That comes across clearly when you talk with people around the Diocese of Worcester who are promoting their schools.
Susan M. Saucier says she wants people to get a “clear picture of Catholic identity” when viewing the Catholic Schools Office Facebook page, Twitter account or website.
That Catholic identity is often conveyed in a single picture – such as one of a priest in a stole standing with students.
Ms. Saucier, director of student financial services, said she was asked to handle social media too last September.
“I myself was not on Facebook,” she said. “I’ve never been on Twitter.” Not until now.
“We’re reaching 2,289 people at this point in time – compared to zero” last fall, she says. “I enjoy it. The schools share so many good things … And we want to get it out there … the good news of our schools.”
An eighth-grader’s PowerPoint presentation is one of the ways St. Bernard Elementary School in Fitchburg shares the Good News on its website. • stbernardselementary.org
Wyatt Bingham’s presentation is about Venerable Nano Nagle, foundress of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary who started the school in 1886.
“We want very much to keep their charism alive,” explains Principal Deborah W. Wright. She wants the website to help school families and prospective families understand the connection between the sisters and the Catholic faith, and “to be very explicit about it.”
The school is inspired by the motto “Deeds, Not Words,” taken from Nano Nagle’s family motto, says the St. Bernard’s mission statement, which is posted on the website. It says the school “is committed to providing a quality Catholic education by teaching the Gospel values of charity, responsibility, dignity and respect in a faith-centered community.”
Bobbie French, principal of St. Anna Elementary School in Leominster, says she posts things on their Facebook page several times a day.
Asked if these efforts involve evangelization, she replies, “We actually post a saint of the day,” shared from the Franciscan Media website.
Mrs. French says she often shares what Father Frederick D. Fraini III, pastor and headmaster, preaches about at the school Mass on Wednesdays, “so it might encourage a conversation at home.” Some school families say they did talk about it, or they post back, “This is great,” she says.
The Catholic Free Press shares many of her posts on its Facebook and Twitter pages, she adds.
“I think the key for what I’ve done is establish rapport with the local media outlets, including The Catholic Free Press,” says Stephanie Muzzy, advancement director at St. Mary Elementary School in Shrewsbury. “I’m reaching out to the towns that we serve … because, as a school, we’re trying to expand our reach.”
She sends the media information and photos about a success story; service projects that show students using their time and talents for the community; and announcements of upcoming events, illustrated with photos from previous years.
This is evangelization she says, explaining, “I think it happens through the stories I tell.” The stories share the Catholic faith and “show that we’re living our mission.”
Mrs. Muzzy says she also manages the school’s Facebook page and Linked In page, where she shares things from the school day – such as when the students were Skyping with an author in California.
These posts show what’s going on, and give prospective parents another reason to check out the school. Alumni love it when she shares school traditions; “they remember the Halloween parade, the elves’ workshop.” But her work isn’t the only promotion the school gets.
“We have some of our best referrals come from our current parents,” she says. This week the school will send them information about the open house to share via their own Facebook pages and emails.
Sharing information about the school can be profitable for families at St. Bernard Elementary. Mrs. Wright says they get a $500 credit applied to their tuition for each family they refer – if that family sends a student to St. Bernard’s for at least two quarters.
“The best publicity I have is our families,” she maintains. School visits help too. She tells families, staff and the advisory board: “If a family comes to visit us, they’ll enroll their children.”
Families who visit have often already learned about the school through its website and Facebook page or by talking on the phone with someone at the school.
She takes her cue about how today’s young parents find schools by talking with her daughter, who is looking online for a school for her pre-schooler in New Hampshire. Parents want media that are visual, Mrs. Wright says. So while she contacts newspapers for stories and advertisements for the school, she also puts pictures on Facebook and the website.
She’s especially proud of the school’s website that was the culminating project for the graphic design students at Mount Wachusett Community College in 2015, she said. They created the website, with help from Leslie Cullen and Kris Jordan, St. Bernard’s mothers and graphic design teachers at the college. Mrs. Wright and Jane Doiron, the St. Bernard’s teacher who now maintains the website, worked with them.
“It really showcases our school,” Mrs. Wright says.
“This is a happy school, beautiful building, enthusiastic staff,” she says. Students are engaged in class. They say “good morning” and hold the door for you. But such behavior isn’t unique to St. Bernard’s.
“I think this is what a Catholic school is,” she says. “That’s why we are so explicit about Catholic identity on the website – because it’s the foundation of everything we do.”
She says when she was hired, the pastor, Father Joseph M. Dolan, said the school wouldn’t have a reason to exist if it wasn’t built on Gospel values.
The mission is clear on the Catholic Schools Office website: “Catholic schools in the Diocese of Worcester form an educational system, which proclaims the existence of God to the greater community. By providing space and time for the holy and sacred, our Catholic schools encourage their students to develop a relationship with God.” The statement says the schools form people of “character and intellect, confident of their mission and ability to transform the world.”
Ms. Saucier says she uses different material for Facebook and Twitter, and what goes up on one also goes to the other.
She shares the schools’ posts and creates her own, including information about pastors and parishes that support the schools. Sometimes schools share what she posts.
In addition to saints and homily material, St. Anna’s Facebook features students: on their birthday, when they get a certificate for reading, at work in the classroom.
“Parents actually like a lot of these non-formal things I post,” Mrs. French says. And students like any excuse to get their photos posted. Parents share things she posts – on their personal Facebook pages.
“We reach a larger audience with all the shares,” she says. Then when people are seeking a school they think of St. Anna’s.
She says the school has 140 families, but more than 850 followers on its Facebook page and also has an active Instagram account.
“I do a lot of cross-posting on Instagram and Facebook,” she says.