Schools to embrace family theme

Forming our future
By Catherine Cook
Welcome to the new school year! In January 2017, the Diocese of Jackson will mark 170 years of Catholic education in the state of Mississippi. It is worth noting that Bishop John Joseph Chanche initiated education immediately upon his appointment as the first bishop of the diocese in 1841, and established the first school six years later. He barely had any priests or even church buildings, but he knew offering Catholic education was critical to growing the church in his care.
Today the importance of Catholic education continues with schools and early learning centers operating within each of the six deaneries of our diocese.
Each year the Office of Catholic Education creates a unifying theme to focus our schools and centers on specific elements that connect us the mission of our church and to what Pope Francis has called us to consider. Recent themes have been based on the Joy of the Gospel and the Year of Mercy.
The 2016-2017 school year theme is FAMILY:
The theme is both a continuation of the Year of Mercy and a response to the Pope’s recent Apostolic Exhortation on “Love in the Family,” Amoris Laetitia. In chapter 7, Pope Francis focuses on education of children. He writes about ethical formation, discipline, family life, faith formation of children and the importance of age appropriate sex education.
His exhortation addresses education within the family. The role of Catholic schools is to support family life by providing a strong academic program infused with the faith formation – a formation and education that promotes mercy, integrity and love.
This theme calls us in Catholic education to renew our commitment to be “partners” with parents in this important enterprise – the education and formation of children and youth. This theme highlights the undeniably important role that families play in the life of our Catholic church, and consequently Catholic education. We must work together to prepare our children and youth for the world in which they will live and lead.
As a school system, we continuously look at ways to improve and strengthen our presence in the diocese and the community as a whole. As this school term opens the schools and centers within our diocese are collectively reporting a slight increase in enrollment.
However, some of our schools are experiencing falling enrollments so we have to look at how we can strengthen those communities. There are multiple contributing factors to decreased enrollment, some are beyond our control while others offer us a challenge. Population shifts within our cities always plays a role in student numbers. This factor is obviously beyond the scope of what an individual Catholic community can change.
Economic challenges almost always contribute to enrollment drops, especially in communities still struggling to recover from the recession. This reality demands that we look for creative, efficient and stable sources of income beyond tuition. If Catholic education played a role in your formation, perhaps you would consider supporting a school in our diocese.
The remaining factors that impact enrollment relate to the choice that families make regarding the education of their children. This choice is based on how our Catholic schools and centers match up with the desires of the family for education versus the options available within each community – public schools, charter schools, private schools and homeschooling.
This brings me back to the theme for the year: FAMILY. It is in the context of family, parents and children, that the decision is made to select a Catholic school or other educational institution with which to partner. In the communities within our diocese where Catholic schools and centers are located, I ask all families not already enrolled to take a look at what a partnership with a Catholic School/Center can be for your family. Our doors are open. We encourage you to visit us, and consider us for your family. Regardless of your choice, we here in the Office of Catholic Education wish all families a successful school year.
(Catherine Cook is the Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Jackson.)