Personal Connections Create Family Atmosphere at St. Bart’s
By Anne Fredrickson
St. Bartholomew Catholic School in Wayzata knows firsthand that the key to effective marketing is telling your story. So last fall, instead of crafting their story-themed open house around a popular children’s book, they made their own.
Featuring the school mascot, Bart the Bulldog, the book follows Bart on adventures through preschool to sixth grade, which are offered at the school. Current third and fourth grade students read the book to groups of prospective kindergarteners at the open house.
“The book not only informs parents about what their kids will experience at St. Bart’s, but it’s also a fun way for our older students to connect with the younger ones,” said St. Bart’s Principal Patrick Fox.
The book, available to any family who tours the school, is just one of the creative ways they have worked to showcase their school community.
“We’ve done two FaceTime tours — one for a family in Arizona and one for a family from North Dakota who watched while pulled over on the side of the road in their car,” Fox said. Staff walked around the school with a cellphone during the virtual tour, spotlighting students along the way.
Both families now have students enrolled.
Families encounter other personal touches when they enroll. They receive a care package that includes a mug for the parents, a water bottle for the new student, a plush Bart the Bulldog, and a personal note from a fifth grader welcoming the new student. New families also receive a visit from the mascot with a St. Bart’s lawn sign in hand.
“We use the book and mascot to connect our current families with potential new families, highlighting the community element,” said Jen Nick, programs director and a parent of four St. Bart’s students. “We can talk about it, but showing it and letting new families feel that connection makes a difference.”
The school has seen an overall increase in enrollment, with the most dramatic rise in kindergarten, which skyrocketed from 15 to 25 students for the upcoming school year. Fox attributes much of the success to word of mouth from current families and an effort to reach parish families who had not yet connected with the school.
“We were able to gather data to identify parish families whose oldest child was entering kindergarten, and we had existing families reach out by email or phone to invite them to the kindergarten story time in November,” Fox said. “Our existing families do a great job spreading the word about the school. They love their school, love their teachers and say great things about us to new families.”
More Than A Community
St. Bart’s has given parents many reasons to sing the school’s praises. In addition to community-building events like a parents-only trivia night, family snow tubing and Minnesota Twins baseball games, the school prioritizes services like before- and after-school care that make daily life easier for many families.
“We looked at what it costs if a family needed full-time after-school care and compared our costs to the public school. Families paying for care in the public school are essentially paying the same price as tuition,” Nick said about their newly adjusted tuition pricing.
St. Bart’s strong academics and faith-filled approach set the school apart in an area that offers many education options. With the leadership of parish priest Father Mike Van Sloun, a former educator, the school incorporates faith into everyday lessons, not just religion class. He regularly visits the second graders preparing for the sacraments and leads a weekly Bible study for the fifth and sixth grade students.
Staff members point to the school’s ability to foster close-knit relationships as another strength.
“A lot of schools say they have a sense of community,” said second grade teacher Emily Bilski. “We’re not a community, we’re a family. Our relationships are super close, whether teacher to student, parent to teacher or teacher to teacher.”
Teachers often attend Sunday Mass together, and they also work together to market the school.
“It’s a team effort,” said Bilski, who works with office staff to manage the school’s social media accounts. “We like to show all the pieces of the school and bring it together to showcase what each classroom does best.”
Sixth grade student Lauren Damberg from Minnetonka said the efforts of teachers and staff are helping her both now and in the future.
“Mr. Fox and the office staff think of creative ways to update the school and enhance learning to make it fun for the students,” Damberg said. “I’m confident that St. Bart’s has prepared me for my life ahead.”