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A Commitment to Diversity: First Racially-Integrated School in South Carolina Continues its Legacy through Latino Outreach

Written by Manny Fernandez on Wednesday, 23 August 2017.

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Every school has a story to tell.

Throughout the six-year history of the Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI), we have seen Catholic school principals from all over the country come to the LEI in the hopes of transforming their schools, and in essence, change their school’s story. Some schools are near closing and desperately need to increase enrollment quickly. Other schools already have a large Latino population and simply want to start serving them better. And still schools see their neighborhoods, their country, and the Church changing and want to be proactive in making sure their school is ready for this inevitable change.

When Shaileen Riginos of St. Anne Catholic School in Rock Hill, South Carolina, applied to the LEI in the summer of 2015, she asked herself, “What do I want our school story to be?” Their enrollment was healthy, their finances were in order, and parents were happy with the direction of the school. But one major area gnawed at her. Despite the fact that St. Anne’s parish was 28% Latino, there were very few Latinos enrolled in the school. With the cost of tuition, attracting low-income families was proving to be difficult.

Shaileen also had a legacy to fulfill. St. Anne had been a leader in diversity since its inception in 1951, when just three years after opening it became the first racially integrated school in South Carolina. It was important for Shaileen to continue St. Anne’s legacy of being a welcoming community to people of all ethnicities and backgrounds.

As it turns out, coming to the LEI turned out to be a godsend for not only her school, but Shaileen as well. “The LEI opened my eyes to the needs of Catholic schools nationwide and of our own school here in Rock Hill, and one of the most significant ways we can help not only Catholic schools and the Church, but even more importantly, Latino children and families, was to get them into our schools. And I knew at that point that St. Anne needed to do that.”

IMG 1509St. Anne is blessed to have an extremely supportive pastor, Father Fabio Refosco. Father Fabio wanted to begin right away, but he wanted to do it right, in a way that would serve the needs of his community and his school. He and Shaileen decided to start small. Because of the cost of tuition, he knew he would need to find enough scholarship money to serve the needs of low-income families. Displaying a keen business sense, Father Fabio found enough scholarship money to offer financial assistance to active Latino parishioners seeking a Catholic education.

On her end, Shaileen got to work immediately. Using the strategies she learned from her time at the LEI, she reached out to the Latino community and found many families excited at the prospect of joining such a faith-filled school. Her staff immediately bought in and welcomed their new families with open arms.

“I received no pushback whatsoever from my staff. Everything happened so naturally. It was a beautiful thing to watch unfold.”

As a result of all of the hard work of Fr. Fabio, Shaileen, and her staff, St. Anne has seen the diversity of her school increase exponentially. St. Anne went from eighteen Latino students before attending the LEI to forty-five Latino students today. And the school’s Latino students come from all over globe: Spain, Peru, Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Mexico, showing strength in diversity even within the Latino community.     

Shaileen now knows St. Anne’s story. It is a story of faith, love, growth, and not insignificantly, a true commitment to diversity. It has been that way since 1954 when, against intense outside pressure to remain segregated, St. Anne’s opened its doors to five African-American children from a nearby parish. And it carries on today as St. Anne welcomes families from countries such as Vietnam, China, Spain, Mexico, Germany, India, and many more.

“Our diversity is a major strength. Coming to the LEI helped us expand that. Helping our Latino families and our low-income families is honestly the BEST part of my job. The parents have been so incredibly appreciative of the gifts our school gives them, but they don’t realize that we are the blessed ones to be able to work with them. Those are the moments when I know that Catholic education makes a difference!”

A wonderful story indeed. 

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