7th Annual Latino Enrollment Institute Serves 190 School Leaders
When Jeanne von Feldt went to promote All Saints Catholic School after Mass at a local parish, she witnessed excited reactions from Latino families when they saw her t-shirt. It read “Yo [amo] las escuelas Católicas”—“I love Catholic schools”—a message of appreciation for Latino culture that von Feldt, principal of All Saints in Davenport, Iowa, and hundreds of other Catholic school leaders working with ACE’s Latino Enrollment Institute, are trying to share with families nationwide.
ACE’s Latino Enrollment Institute helps Catholic schools increase their enrollments by more effectively welcoming students from Latino families—the fastest-growing Catholic population in the United States. This summer, the Institute hosted its seventh annual conference to help more than 190 school leaders learn strategies to create culturally-responsive classrooms, events, and policies, to support English language learners, to recruit and retain new students, and to fortify the school’s long-term financial stability. During the school year, participants complete online discussion modules and receive support from a mentor principal at another school.
Since von Feldt implemented the LEI’s action plan in 2016, she has increased Latino student enrollment at All Saints from 100 to 142 students.
“People say, ‘What did you do, Jeanne?’ And I say, ‘Word of mouth,’” von Feldt said. “It’s so important to reach out [to families], and to be present at as many events as you can.”
As Institute Program Director Manny Fernandez stressed to this summer’s participants, Latino families often strongly value their Catholic faith and want to share these traditions with their children.
“What better way of advancing Latinos, and the Catholic faith that they love so much, than having Latino children attend Catholic schools?” Fernandez said.
To draw Latino families, Fernandez said, Catholic schools must present themselves as “available, affordable, and accessible” to all. He encourages schools to recruit “Madrinas” (“godmothers”)—bilingual, well-connected, and passionate Latino parents who can help welcome new families into the school community. Madrinas may serve as conduits between families and administrators, helping school leaders better understand how they can celebrate students’ cultural heritages and meet students’ needs in and out of the classroom.
As the Institute encourages school leaders to do, Robert LeGros, the principal of Cathedral School of Saint Mary in Austin, Texas, visited area parishes every Sunday for three months to make announcements after Mass and set up tables outside of the church with admissions information. Since 2014, Latino student enrollment at LeGros’ school increased from 77 to 167 students.
Von Feldt and LeGros found that welcoming Latino families more actively into their schools not only increased enrollment, but also brought energy and joy to their school communities. When Von Feldt invited Latino families to help plan events for Hispanic Heritage Month, el Día de los Muertos, and the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, her entire school community grew closer through celebrations of Latino food, games, art, and dancing.
Supporting families, von Feldt and LeGros said, also means recognizing the great sacrifices they make to send their children to Catholic schools and supporting families through difficult times. When the mother of four students from LeGros’ school was hospitalized, he brought food to the family in the hospital each day and prayed with them.
“We weren’t there only to support the children, but to support the whole family,” LeGros said.
As mentor principals, LeGros and von Feldt look forward to helping other school leaders implement strategies from this summer’s LEI conference during the upcoming school year.
“The influence that LEI is having across the nation is absolutely amazing,” von Feldt said. “We’re learning from the leadership that Notre Dame has provided us with, and then we’re able to share what we have learned with the new people coming in. The effects just keep growing.”