Diocesan schools respond to changing demographics

By TAMI QUIGLEY Staff writer

Various strategies are in place to help diocesan schools respond to the changing demographic of the church and schools, according to Jessica Edris, diocesan director of school marketing and enrollment.

Four schools have action plans in this regard: Berks Catholic High School, Reading; Holy Infancy School, Bethlehem; Sacred Heart School, West Reading; and St. Anne School, Bethlehem.

Edris said these schools have worked with the Alliance of Catholic Education (ACE) of the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind. and are “doing new and creative things to enroll students.”

Each of the four schools receives an annual visit from their “partner principal” through ACE.

The Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) was co-sponsored last October at DeSales University, Center Valley by ACE, the Diocese of Allentown and the Healey Education Foundation. LEI is a product of the Catholic School Advantage Campaign at Notre Dame.

Congregation of the Holy Cross (CSC) Father Joseph Corpora is director of the Catholic School Advantage Campaign. A native of the Diocese of Allentown, Father Corpora is a former parishioner of St. Anthony of Padua, Easton, where his father, Dominick Vito Corpora, is still a parishioner.

Father Corpora was the featured speaker at a Latino Enrollment Booster meeting in the diocese May 16 and is slated to speak at the Diocesan Education Convention this fall.

“Working with the University of Notre Dame’s Father Joseph Corpora on the Latino Enrollment Institute has been a true inspiration. Our Catholic Schools embrace all of God’s children and continually strive to serve our communities with love,” said Dr. Brooke Tesche, diocesan deputy superintendent, secondary education and special education.

Erdis said the diocese will also be represented at the Sabor Latin Festival at SteelStacks, Bethlehem Friday, June 23 through Sunday, June 25.

Many of the schools talk about having a “madrina” (Spanish for godmother). These are Latino women who help form relationships with Latino families, such as visiting and helping them fill out school application forms.

Berks Catholic High School

“Family is one of our pillars at BCHS and we try to be an extension of each student’s nuclear family,” said Principal Tony Balistrere. “It is important for us to love and respect each of our students for their God-given potential and abilities.

“Approximately 20 percent of our students are Latino, and it is vital that all students and families feel welcome, and that we celebrate and continue to grow to understand the diversity that exists at BCHS.

“Our response following LEI was immediate. One of the first things that we did was to have applications, information, brochures and messages available in Spanish and English.

“We are also blessed to have a great administrative assistant, Sonia Perez, who is a native speaker. In addition to the normal communication she facilitates with all of our families, she also serves as a translator in roles such as admissions and financial aid.

“I think it has reinforced the importance of customer service for all families and the need to meet students and families where they are to help our students reach their full potential and meet the needs of our families.”

The school’s LEI action plan involves including a home language survey with the enrollment form to all new families. This gives teachers a sense of the linguistic support new students will need to thrive in the school.

Holy Infancy School

“I believe that the LEI is important to take action on because the Latino community is a major percentage of Catholic believers,” said Marjorie Manasse, principal of Holy Infancy.

“Also being on the Southside of Bethlehem, which has a vast majority of Latino people, we must ensure that the people who attend our school are representative of the community that our school resides in.

“To evangelize to all people, we must be aware, and inclusive of all cultures.

“Holy Infancy began to initiate some of the changes on our action plan immediately after the LEI conference in October.”

Some of the immediate changes implemented were translating all notices that go home into Spanish, setting up the school’s community breakfast, attending two Spanish Masses to extend an invitation to families for an open house and instituting madrinas.

“As a result of some of our immediate changes there are families speaking more positively about our school. We enrolled three families with a total of four children who attend our Spanish Masses, and parents are seeking the advice of our madrinas,” Manasse said.

The school’s LEI action plan included holding two open houses in November 2016 to attract more Latino families. The school also showed a video on how to embrace Latino culture with the curriculum during a staff meeting last November.

Sacred Heart School

“In the past several years we have seen an increase in the number of Latino students at Sacred Heart School. Additionally, we are very close to the city of Reading, which has a large Latino population. We wanted to be responsive to the needs of our new Latino families, as well as explore ways of attracting new ones,” said Sacred Heart Principal Kathy Napolitano.

“We actually started before we attended the LEI, after hearing a talk given by Father Corpora. We immediately asked a parent to be our first madrina, and she was thrilled to accept. She attended an open house and was instrumental in engaging some Spanish-speaking families.

“We translated our marketing and registration materials into Spanish, and changed some of the signage in the building. We had a very successful Cultural Food Festival, which has become an annual event.”

Napolitano said the school has slowly but surely seen results from the efforts. “Word travels that we are a welcoming environment and that we celebrate diversity,” she said.

The school’s LEI action plan included holding a successful cultural celebration during Catholic Schools Week.

St. Anne School

“St. Anne School is seeing an increase of Latino families enrolling in our school. We are centrally located, serving multiple communities in Bethlehem,” said Karen Bentz, principal.

“Our mission, in part, welcomes all members of the community. As a result, we created a theme for St. Anne School, ‘All Are Welcome in This Place,’ and created a colorful welcome banner placed outside our main entrance to the school. The banner is in both English and Spanish.”

Bentz said the school has purchased “Command Spanish” specifically designed to educate staff and faculty in school-related Spanish communication.

“We have also created a Spanish version of our registration form. We have started a relationship with a local Latino restaurant to become more knowledgeable of and integrated into the local Latino community. We are searching for a madrina and making local contacts through newly enrolled Latino families,” she said.

Bentz said the school began to initiate changes right after attending the LEI workshop in October 2016. “We immediately began plans to theme our Catholic School Week celebration around a global theme with several nationalities represented. We started to change our outside directional signage to include English and Spanish. We also placed an international welcome sign, in several languages, near our main office.

“The enrollment committee of our St. Anne School Board of Specified Jurisdiction has enthusiastically embraced the LEI initiative. They have made an effort to include local Latino business and community leaders to advise us on our plan and next steps.

“We have seen multiple Latino families, mostly in the primary grades, tour and/or enroll in St. Anne School in the past few months. When the families come in to tour and visit, they are immediately welcomed by a warm and culturally open environment.

“Our mentor principal from LEI spent a day with us a few weeks ago. She advised, observed and submitted an updated report regarding our efforts. We are pleased that we were part of this mentor program and thank the Healey Education Foundation and our Healy consultant Kathy Link for her support and guidance.”

St. Anne’s LEI action plan includes identifying Latino families in the school by reviewing school files, then meeting families and discussing their needs and what they see the school can do to be more welcoming and serve them better.

The plan includes educating the faculty and staff, helping them understand why St. Anne is participating in LEI – the need to see the face of Jesus in all students and welcome them to the school.

Diocesan efforts in welcoming all

“The Diocese of Allentown Catholic schools believe that we must be prepared to educate all the children that God sends us by providing an academically competitive education that is rooted in Catholic values,” said Jessica Edris, diocesan director of school marketing and enrollment.

“We have developed the Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) as the first step in educating our school communities about becoming culturally responsive. As a community of Catholic schools, we must welcome students and families of all backgrounds, ethnicities and faiths to best serve as an extension of the mission of the Catholic Church.”

Edris said LEI, hosted by the Diocese of Allentown, has led schools in the diocese and those in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Md.; Diocese of Camden, N.J.; and Archdiocese of Philadelphia, in opening their doors to this diverse population of students and has taught schools how best to be responsive.

“In the Diocese of Allentown, the Office of Education endeavors to have a place to serve every child and provide them with an inclusive, compassionate school environment where Catholic values provide the framework for academic, social, and spiritual success,” she said.

“All Are Welcome” will be the theme for several events the Office of Education is participating in over the next six months.

“We are embarking on a mission of outreach and engagement with our communities. We will be present for large regional events like Catholic Schools Night at the Iron Pigs Friday, June 16 and Catholic Schools Night at the Reading Phillies Saturday, July 22, where we can engage with our communities as well as participate in some culturally specific events, like Celtic Classic and Sabor Festival, to extend our message to those who may not have felt that Catholic school was meant for them or their family,” said Edris.

The Sabor Festival is hosted by ArtsQuest and is a three-day celebration of Latino culture including music, food and family fun, including free concerts, arts and crafts, children’s activities, Latin dance presentations and a Mariachi Mass.

The Celtic Classic is a three-day celebration of Celtic culture and heritage of Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Brittany that includes U.S. National Highland Athletic games, pipe band competition, food, crafts and children’s activities. The festival runs Friday, Sept. 22 through Sunday, Sept. 24.

“We will echo this same welcoming theme in the Diocesan Family Festival on Sunday, Sept. 24, as well as our Diocesan Education Convention on Monday, Oct. 9,” said Edris