Catholic schools use gis to expand opportunities to under served communities.

Private School Market Analysis:  Archdiocese of Seattle Catholic Schools:

While it might seem unlikely that schools would seek out the services of a GIS Consultant, this is the story of just such a scenario.  The GIS literature is sprinkled with examples of cases where GIS is used to help with school related issues.  Examples include school and district emergency plans, bus route management, and location analysis for the placement of new schools in areas where population and development is expanding. Most of these projects are done by large organizations such as state or county governments, or public school districts.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle, Washington collaborated with Synthos, LLC to use GIS technology to help with it’s planning efforts in the Outreach and Marketing Office.  The Archdiocesan Schools Office manages 74 Elementary schools and several Junior/Senior High Schools in Western Washington. The Office was in the process of evaluating its enrollment numbers and levels of service across the large area of counties in Western Washington State.  Its goal was to identify areas where Catholic communities and families might be under served by the Catholic School system, due to a lack of schools or a failure of the Archdiocese to provide adequate outreach and information to families with school age children.

In public school systems, students are generally assigned to attend schools, or choose schools based on their geographic proximity to the school, and/or their residence being within established school districts.  In the Catholic Schools system, this is not the case.  Families can choose to send their children to any Catholic School they choose, without regard to location.  Sometimes they choose a school based on convenience (on their commute to work), family history, special programs offered, or even ethnic identity.  Especially among immigrant communities, parents often choose private/Cathoic schools where a significant ethnic community of their heritage is present. Such choices enable their children to feel more comfortable at school, maintain their heritage, and learn in a school where they feel valued in a way that only an ethnic or nationality based group can provide.

Based on prior research, mostly survey based, the Catholic Schools office was aware that specific ethnic groups existed in certain parishes, and also that they were under represented in the Catholic school system  Certain groups tend to have strong religious affiliation with the Church, but tend to attend Catholic schools in lower numbers than the Catholic population at large.  These groups include Hispanics, Filipinos, some East African groups, and other smaller populations of Vietnamese, Korean, and East Indian people.  For this study, the Schools Office decided to focus on the Hispanic population, as this was the largest of the immigrant groups.

This is where GIS came in; to help understand the issue in geographic terms.

Due to limited funds, and time, Synthos, LLC was hired to assemble data and conduct limited analysis to identify areas in need our outreach by the Catholic Schools office.  While many parishes had numbers showing how many parishoners were of Hispanic descent, or were recent immigrants; this information was based only on the self reporting of families.  This raised three problems with using Parish rolls for baseline data. First, not all registered families actually attended Mass (or school) regularly.  Second, some families declined to register in a parish due to fears of immigration problems or deportation. And third, not all Parishes conducted counts, and those that were taken were often done in a non-standardized, inconsistent manner.

Due to these factors, it was decided to use US Census Block Groups as the primary map layer from with to derive geographic boundaries and the associated attribute data regarding, population, age, and ethnic identity. Though not perfect, Census Data are collected in a consistent, uniform method; and provide the best non-biased source available for use in comparing population density, sorted by age (here, school aged children), and ethnicity (Hispanic persons in this case).  The Census Block Group was chosen as the most appropriate mapping unit for the issues being investigated in this effort.

Project Output and Results
Analysis was done for the 47 Elementary (K-8) schools in the Archdiocese of Seattle.  Point location of each school was mapped on top of two data based layers from the Census Data.  Age of potential students was mapped in quantiles, aged 0 to 14 years to represent children who are of school age or will soon reach school age.  These quantiles are indicated by a color ramp shading.  The percentage of students of Hispanic heritage was also mapped with quantiles using a hatching pattern.  The scale of each map was adjusted to include the general area (within several miles) of each school and any other nearby parishes.   One of the analysis maps is presented below.


This is just one way in which GIS can benefit Private school systems as they work to market, manage, and plan their programs.  Other demographic questions can doubtless be answered in more creative ways using GIS, becoming much more data driven and objective than the more often used subjective surveys and parish based recordkeeping.  In a second phase, the Seattle Archdiocese is considering making use of more proximity based and travel centered spatial analysis in the near future.

Synthos intends to be in the lead on these efforts!

Synthos, LLC.  February 4, 2021.