"El entusiasmo es contagioso"
“Enthusiasm is contagious”
Throughout the United States, Latino populations are on the rise, especially in the Catholic church. Latinos now make up approximately 70 percent of all practicing Catholics in the United States under the age of thirty-five, yet only 3 percent of school-aged Latino children are enrolled in Catholic schools. Oftentimes, Latino families can feel disconnected with their local Catholic school, many of which are designed to cater to an immigrant community of a different generation. Here are eight ways to help your school become more welcoming to Latino families:
1. Ditch the deficit mindset. Too often, when considering Latino outreach, people approach the topic with a deficit mindset, asking, “why don’t they do this the way we do?” Not a single strategy (and there are thousands) will work if you see Latinos’ growing presence in the United States as a problem. But if you believe in your heart and mind that welcoming Latino families is part of God’s providence, and see it as an opportunity, you’ll approach it with zeal, energy, and life. You’re bound to be more successful.
2. Realize that it takes work. Reaching out to Latino families and making your school more welcoming for them isn’t rocket science, but some of it is counterintuitive to how an Anglo-centered mind might work. We all have hidden biases and prejudices about how life works and about the way things are—stop for a moment to consider these biases, and think about how others might approach things differently.
3. Do the small things. Latino outreach is not just about hanging a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the office or providing a Mass in Spanish—but those things help! Make sure your school offers clubs centered around things valued by the Latino culture and, if possible, offers extra classes after school like Spanish for those who don’t speak it, and English for parents whose first language is Spanish. Make sure that all of the forms at your school are in both English and Spanish. When it comes to the small things, make every effort to show that there isn’t a dominant culture at your school, and that it’s welcoming of all cultures.
4. Look for potential community knowledge. Using the real life of your kids (and their parents) to help them learn is an excellent strategy for any teacher, but can be particularly helpful in making your school more welcoming for Latino families. Once again, ditch the deficit mindset and start thinking about the community as rich with resources. What gifts do your Latino parents have that could truly benefit your students, and how can you incorporate those gifts into your lessons? Answering this question will not only benefit your students, but will also improve the relationship you have with your students’ parents.
5. Increase your knowledge. As simple as it may sound, it makes a difference to know your stuff. Teachers and administrators should be knowledgeable in the process of language acquisition, best practice for English language learners, and culturally responsive and sustaining classrooms. Remember that many immigrant children feel as though they have to check their culture and language at the door, but you can find ways to honor and celebrate their culture and language—it’s who they are.
6. Reach out with care. A recent Edutopia blog argued that the number one thing you can do on a back-to-school night to connect with parents, more than providing information, is to show them that you care about their children. This is doubly true for Latino parents. Latino culture strongly values relationships, and the more trust and confianza you can instill, the more successful you’ll be in building those relationships. Show parents that you love what you do, that you love your school, and that you really care for their kids—remember, el entusiasmo es contagioso (“enthusiasm is contagious”).
7. Weave the community into the school. Your school should not be separated from the community, but rather a part of the community. Encourage families to bring their gifts and talents to the school community, and see the relationship as reciprocal. Don’t forget to ask questions, and help your students to ask questions of each other and their own families. These questions can help to validate the importance of each student’s own culture and family.
8. Invite, invite, invite. Invite Latino parents to come to school to help with refreshments after Mass, invite grandparents to attend weekly Mass with the students, invite parents to share their gifts with their children’s classrooms. But don’t just invite them once—invite, and invite again, and invite again. Make all the families in your community—Latino and otherwise—feel as though you’re not just welcoming them to the community, but actually want them there.
Latino families can be an incredible blessing for Catholic schools, bringing rich cultural experiences and expertise to the community. We should strive to continue to help these families feel welcome in our shared mission to provide as many children as possible an education that is academically excellent and authentically Catholic.