Families provide support to Catholic schools
On a recent Tuesday morning at St. Joan of Arc School in Omaha, Rita Bystrek listened to fourth-grader Sebastian Peters read in the library from a book about tornadoes.
Downstairs in the cafeteria, Nancy Meier helped first-grader Adi McGrath open a fruit cup from her lunch.
Those scenes of parent volunteers helping in all kinds of ways repeat themselves daily in Catholic schools across the archdiocese. And that high participation rate, a combination of school officials encouraging involvement and parents eager to give back, strengthen the school communities, said Patrick Slattery, superintendent of schools.
"It’s a win-win," he said.
For Bystrek, who had five children attend St. Joan of Arc, and Meier, who has two children currently attending the school, volunteering is a way to thank the teachers and staff for providing faith-filled educations.
Being able to read is critical to learning in any subject, Bystrek said, so she volunteers once a week, spending an hour listening to students read in 15-minute increments.
Taking a break from the tornado book and relating the subject matter to his life, Bystrek reminded Peters about safety precautions during a storm. He told her how he went to the basement and got under a chair during a warning.
"I like reading, especially with Mrs. Bystrek," Peters said. "She’s really nice and helps us out."
Meier said spending an hour in the lunchroom or helping plan class parties offers a nice break away from her job. Service is an important part of her family’s faith life, she said, and she hopes her efforts model that behavior to students.
Being active at school also helps parents develop friendships with each other and have closer relationships with their children’s teachers, said Don Mroczek, who has volunteered at Scotus Central Catholic Junior/Senior High School in Columbus with his wife, Karen, for more than 35 years.
Members of St. Isidore Parish in Columbus, the Mroczeks have four children who graduated from Scotus Central Catholic and one, Cody, who is a sophomore. Karen also is a graduate.
Whether manning a table as a ticket-taker for a school event or standing out in the sun as a timer at a track meet, parents are eager to help in any way they can, Don Mroczek said.
"There is always a list of people you can call on," he said.
Making parents feel welcome and encouraging communication between parents and teachers fosters a family environment that leads to more participation, said Wayne Morfeld, president and principal of Scotus Central Catholic.
The volunteer work of parents helps school officials focus limited time and funds on providing a faith-filled education, he said.
"That’s invaluable," Morfeld said.
At St. Joan of Arc, a new program this year encourages parents to get involved in school and parish activities to build a cohesive community, said Kayleen Wallace, principal.
As part of the Parent Participation Program, parents are being asked to volunteer for 20 hours of service during the school year, either at the school or through parish-specific efforts such as being a greeter at Mass or helping with a Knights of Columbus pancake feed, Wallace said.
The effort is designed to show the parish and school as "one big community, everyone working together," she said.
The school also is blessed with many retired parishioners who volunteer, she said.
At Archbishop Bergan Catholic School in Fremont, parents help organize events through the Parent Knights group, said Dan Koenig, principal. That often includes parents making sack lunches for members of sports teams who will be traveling by bus, helping with a class retreat, and other activities he said.
"We all work together," Koenig said.
Community extends to other family members as well at Howells Community Catholic School, said Carol Vogel, head teacher.
During Grandparents Day each September, grandparents, many of whom babysit their grandchildren after school, attend Mass with the students and then tour the school, she said.
And if parents can’t attend a school event with their children, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other family members are encouraged to fill in.
"It’s important to keep the whole community involved," Vogel said.