The Benefits of Choosing Faith Based Education with Julie Soffner and Emily Roth

“[Catholic education has] shifted more to that way of self control and using your abilities as a young student to go out and make change and have the discipline to worry about not just yourself, but others in your community.”

Julie Soffner

Today’s guests are Julie Soffner, Executive Director of the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation and Emily Roth, Principal of St. Cecilia Catholic School. Julie and Emily sit down with Staci to discuss the benefits of a Catholic education, myths about faith based education, and helping families find a sense of belonging in their schooling.

Emily’s personal K-12 story

  • Emily was born and raised here in St. Louis
  • Went off to college in San Diego
  • Then I took a 13 year stint where I taught and coached international schools
  • In Trinidad and Tobago, Guatemala, which is where I learned Spanish, abu Dhabi for seven years, and then Malaysia for the last two

Julie’s personal K-12 story

  • Public school educated K-8
  • Catholic High School 9-12

Tell us about the work you do 

  • remove barriers for teachers to be able to do what they need to do to impact student.
  • ForToday and Tomorrow Educational Foundation, our number one mission is to make Catholic or private faith based school attainable for families who are choosing a values based education. 
  • We do that by providing scholarships so families can make that choice. 

Today and Tomorrow scholarships, catholic school students, do they work with, like, Lutheran schools or anyone else? 

  • Absolutely
  • So though 85% of our students attend a Catholic school, it could be a Lutheran, it could be any other denomination. 
  • It also could be a private city school like City Academy or the South City Community School. 

Who’s eligible to receive these scholarships? 

  • The majority of our families are income eligible, and we use the free and reduced lunch guidelines
  • We exist purely to make sure that families of all income levels have the ability to choose a private school

So do they apply for a scholarship with you and then you connect them to a school, or do they get connected to a school first? 

  • What we often see with St. Louis families is they have the desire to send their child to a school like a St. Cecilia
  • Once they hear from us at Today and Tomorrow that they’ve gotten the scholarship, then we will say, great, you listed St. Cecilia, but you’re not enrolled there yet. Go back and we’ll work with the school at that time
  • I would just say that 100% of our families do receive that scholarship, and then we have above and beyond that, we have other opportunities for scholarships. 

What does it actually mean to get a Catholic education? How is it different from regular private school or even public school? 

  • Our focus and the reason we exist is to part of our mission statement is to educate students for the glory of God
  • Our students attend mass once a week together

How has Catholic education changed over the last couple of years? And what are some of the misconceptions you want parents to kind of have debunked. 

  • One of the biggest shifts that’s happened over the last 50 years in the Catholic school system is that the majority of the teachers and leadership at Catholic schools were religious
  • Now with less religious leadership in the schools and there being more lay leadership, there’s so many similarities to the great public schools that are also in our communities and then we’re just adding the layer of values based
  • “[Catholic education has] shifted more to that way of self control and using your abilities as a young student to go out and make change and have the discipline to worry about not just yourself, but others in your community.” 
  • So we really have focused a lot of our professional learning for our staff the last year, and we’re continuing this year on how do we create inviting environments where all students feel a sense of belonging and that when somebody causes harm to another person because it’s going to happen. Schools are places where we’re learning.” 
  • Of the Catholic schools in St. Louis City, one of the things that I think is so important to keep in mind is that we have some schools where up to 80 85% of the students are not Catholic.

What do you think is one of the greatest challenges in that shift from having community or neighborhood schools to now having schools where kids can kind of go from anywhere in the city? 

  • one thing that we are at St. Celia are really trying to do is bring back some of those community events where families can come and there can be some socialization and just connection making

What do you think is one of the reasons, or maybe the top reason that parents do choose that faith based, values based Catholic education? 

  • some of them are Catholic and want that Catholic education for their child. Some who are not Catholic want that family connection, feel they want a safe place
  • “So new students coming in that may have experienced unsafe situations in other schools quickly learn, oh, that’s not the way that it’s run here, but that I am still a safe member of this community and I belong and I am an important voice here.”

What are other factors that parents should be weighing when considering a Catholic education? Because Catholic schools are considered private independent schools. Correct? 

  • Yes
  • a reminder to parents that we, as our parents, are their first and best advocates

Where can people find you guys?

  • Today and Tomorrow Education Foundation –
  • St. Cecilia School and Academy on Facebook + Google