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Catholic School Advantage

National TV Spotlights Children and Leaders Tied to Push for Latino Enrollment in Catholic Schools

Written by Steve McClure on Tuesday, 01 October 2013.


This week, 48 students from Catholic schools in Los Angeles, partnering with the Catholic School Advantage Campaign (CSA), an initiative of the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), will participate in a community forum on Hispanic education at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The forum kicks off Univisión’s third annual Education Week and highlights the television network’s national campaign, ¡Es El Momento! (The Time is Now), aimed at improving academic achievement among Latino students in K-12 schools.

Twelve Catholic schools will be represented at the forum—ten elementary schools that work directly with the CSA campaign’s field consultant in Los Angeles, Sylvia Armas-Abad, and two East L.A. Catholic high schools.

In addition, the forum will give ten of these students the opportunity to speak on behalf of their schools and ask questions of the panelists whose focus will be on how to increase Latino educational attainment, assist with college financing, and pursue pathways to higher education.

A one-hour webcast, in English, will be streamed live from the community forum on Friday, Oct. 4, at 3:00 p.m. EDT (12:00 p.m. PDT). The entire town hall, conducted predominately in Spanish, will be aired on local Univisión television stations around the country on Saturday, Oct. 5, at 4:00 p.m. EDT on the program El Futuro Es Hoy.

Univisión Communications, a leading media company serving Hispanic America, launched the national education initiative, ¡Es El Momento!, in 2010, with special focus on increasing high school graduation rates, college readiness and completion, and the engagement of both Hispanic parents and the broader community in these efforts. The ¡Es El Momento! campaign is conducted in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, and various other community, education, and civil rights organizations from around the country.

Six students from Salesian High School and six students from Sacred Heart High School, schools in East L.A. that draw graduates from schools with partnerships in ACE’s Catholic School Advantage campaign, took part in one of the roundtable discussions and will represent Catholic schools in the Oct. 5 program.

Sylvia Armas-Abad, who, in addition to serving as the CSA campaign’s field consultant in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, is also a native of East L.A. and a product of K-12 Catholic education, has been instrumental in preparing these students for the opportunity to speak in both the forum and the roundtable discussion. For the past 20 years, Sylvia has dedicated her work to advocating for the educational needs of Latino students, especially in the inner-city. In her role with the campaign, she works with a cohort of Catholic elementary schools to help them implement new and innovative recruitment and marketing strategies and better respond to the needs of the Latino community.

In conjunction with the events surrounding ¡Es El Momento! and Education Week, Univisión will air a segment focusing specifically on Catholic schools in Los Angeles on the network news program, Aquí y Ahora, Sunday, Oct. 6 at 7:00 p.m. EDT. The segment will feature interviews with Sylvia Armas-Abad and Archbishop José Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, among other supporters of increased access to Catholic schools for Latino children.

“Working with both our Catholic high school and Catholic elementary students these last few weeks in preparation for the Univision Town Hall meeting has been a beautiful reminder of the importance and urgency of the Catholic School Advantage campaign,” said Armas-Abad. “This experience really deepens my commitment to share the gift of Catholic schools with the Latino community and continue to break down the barriers that keep them from enrolling their children in our schools.”

Photo: On Wednesday, September 18, 2013, 6 young men from Salesian High School and 5 young women from Sacred Heart High School participated in a roundtable discussion, with Maria Hurtado from Univision (pictured here with the students), focused on issues that impact college readiness for Latino students. Footage from this taped roundtable will be featured during the Town Hall telecast on Univision on Saturday, October 5, 2013.


"Catholic School Advantage" Innovator Rudy Vargas Honored for Latino Ministry

Written by William Schmitt on Wednesday, 04 September 2013.

Vargas, Field Consultant with ACE, Receives William Sadlier Dinger Award

Rudy Vargas, a New York City-based field consultant with the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), has received the 2013 William Sadlier Dinger Award for Ministry in the Hispanic Community.

Vargas, who works directly with Catholic schools to increase Latino enrollments in the Archdiocese of New York through ACE’s Catholic School Advantage campaign, accepted the award Aug. 28 from publishing executive William Sadlier Dinger. The presentation occurred during the annual conference of the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry.

The award recognizes Vargas’ numerous “contributions to the Hispanic community in America during the past 25-plus years,” said Dinger, president of William H. Sadlier, Inc. He told Vargas, “Your deep faith and many skills have made you a source of blessing to so many people.”

Vargas joined ACE in 2010 to help advance the nationwide Catholic School Advantage campaign to boost Latino access to Catholic schools. He is the executive director of the Northeast Hispanic Catholic Center, serving 34 dioceses in the Northeast United States.

His previous work in ministry included service as executive director of the Center for Catholic Lay Leadership. He was also president of the National Catholic Association of Diocesan Directors for Hispanic Ministry.

He serves as a board member of Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA).

His contributions to ACE’s partnership with the Archdiocese of New York include the advancement of an innovative “madrinas” initiative in archdiocesan schools, encouraging respected family members in Latino neighborhoods (such as madrinas, or godmothers) to spread the good word about Catholic schools among local families.

Vargas commented that his years of experience with Hispanic ministry “helped give me a good understanding of how to organize the madrinas program” for the Catholic School Advantage campaign. He said he has benefited from a “network of support” among Hispanic Catholic leaders at the local and national level, helping him to develop new leadership through the madrinas.

ACE’s Catholic School Advantage campaign is a nationwide effort to double the enrollment of Latino children in U.S. Catholic schools. Insights from the campaign, such as inviting the support of madrinas, are being implemented in schools around the country as a growing number of principals embrace the financial, cultural, and managerial strategies for increasing Latino access to Catholic schools and helping to keep inner-city Catholic schools open.

Dinger is president of William H. Sadlier, Inc., a publisher of print, digital, and online educational materials and of Catholic catechetical materials. A Notre Dame alumnus, Dinger is known for his support of K-12 education and Catholic education in particular.

The William Sadlier Dinger Award for Ministry in the Hispanic Community, established in 2009, recognizes an individual or organization for outstanding leadership strengthening the Church in the Latino community.

Rodolfo Vargas IV holds a bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York (SUNY) Empire State College and a master’s degree in pastoral leadership from Fordham University.

Photo courtesy of William H. Sadlier, Inc.: At the award presentation, William Sadlier Dinger (left) and Rudy Vargas.

In the Spotlight: Sr. Mary Paul and the Grace of Growth

on Friday, 17 May 2013.

Part 1

In February of 2008, Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., appointed Sister Mary Paul McCaughey O.P. as superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Chicago. Since then, Sister Mary Paul has been working to write a story of hope, renewal, and grace for Chicago's Catholic schools.

At the time of her appointment, however, the narrative of Catholic schools in Chicago was dominated by decline, instability, and uncertainty. Despite the brilliance of a few beacons of hope, the big picture presented some serious challenges. For the most part, Catholic schools were struggling.

In 2008, Catholic school leaders in Chicago faced trends of declining enrollment and closing schools. Between 1984-2004 alone, there were 148 Catholic school closures in the city of Chicago. With a financial recession taking hold and rising costs hindering many students and families from paying tuition, the outlook for many of Chicago's Catholic schools was uncertain at best, especially for those schools serving students in poverty or in under-resourced communities.

In 2013, however – five years into Sister Mary Paul McCaughey's tenure as superintendent – that narrative has gradually started to change.

After plummeting for decades, enrollment has increased in Chicago Catholic schools for the past three years. To put that in perspective, the last time the Archdiocese had just two consecutive years of growth was in 1965.

"I think growth is a grace," says Sister Mary Paul, "We cooperate with God's grace in continuing to grow as students and as persons of service. Whether that's for the young people or the slightly older people who serve them, that's what energizes me. It's in the air."

A career educator and lifelong Chicago-area native, Sister Mary Paul graduated from Marian Catholic High School in the Chicago Heights area, an economically and ethnically diverse community just 30 miles south of downtown Chicago. She later returned to Marian Catholic High School to serve as both principal and president.

After an earlier stint as a principal, she thought that she might become a clinical counselor. However, she explains, "I found out kind of quickly that I had people who were complaining with twenty, twenty-four clients a week." She realized, "Why shouldn't we then try to change the system so we can have healthy people everywhere? Why not change the system?"

Sister Mary Paul describes discerning her vocation to be an educator and leader as a "gradual conversion." After successfully merging Sacred Heart Academy and Griffin High School in Springfield, Illinois, she had permission to pursue a PhD at the University of Chicago Theological Seminary. After only a year in the program, her community called her back to Marian, and she became principal and president there for the next 18 years.

"I thought I'd already done my duty to education while still young enough to do something else," she laughs, "but it turns out...God had another idea."

Trusting in the ability of the Catholic school system to adapt, Sister Mary Paul has worked to rally renewed efforts to bring a Catholic education to as many students as possible in Chicago. As Superintendent, Sister Mary Paul draws from both her 40 years of experience in education and her openness to new approaches in order to lead pastors, educators, Universities, and other community stakeholders in collaborating on plans for the future. "There's no greater thing than walking into a Catholic school and getting smacked with that feeling that everyone is on board with really wanting the best for one another," she says.

For Sister Mary Paul, reclaiming the narrative of Catholic education in Chicago will mean finding ways for educators and leaders "to challenge one another, to support one another, and to teach one another."

With a vision of trust and continuous improvement, Sister Mary Paul intends to build on the momentum of three consecutive years of enrollment growth. In that spirit, the School Board of the Archdiocese published a three-year strategic plan in March of 2013. The document highlights signs of hope from the past few years and outlines a plan to learn from and build on these successes in the future. The plan suggests a clear path forward for Chicago's Catholic schools, and though it is only the beginning, a new story of growth and grace is steadily taking shape in Chicago.

Read Part II of this story.

New Life for Aquinas Catholic Academy

on Monday, 06 May 2013.

Two years ago, if you had asked Principal Sr. Nancy Gannon, SFCC, about the future prospects of Aquinas Catholic Academy, she wouldn't have been able to hide her worries. This school in rural Kankakee, Illinois had been watching enrollment decrease by ten to twenty students per year for nearly twenty years. When the 2011-12 year began, Sr. Nancy knew the situation had become dire. She looked at her books and quickly estimated the school would operate at a loss of over $50,000 that year alone.

Around the same time she heard about the Hispanic Initiative, a movement within the diocese of Joliet led by Fr. Jeremiah Lynch, SJ to better minister to the Latino population by educating more of their children in Catholic schools. She attended an annual meeting hosted by the Catholic Schools Office, at which Fr. Joe Corpora, CSC, of ACE's Catholic School Advantage (CSA) campaign, was the featured speaker. Little did she know as she listened that her school was about to walk down a path of remarkable transformation.

With the help of CSA strategies, Aquinas Academy began the challenging and rewarding work of becoming a school where Latino families felt at home and valued. "The first thing I did was reach out to a madrina, a respected and influential woman in the community. I knew Lorenia Lara was just the right person. Her daughters had been students at Aquinas, she served on the school board, and she knew the ins and outs of the school. We had often called on her to help struggling Hispanic families and she always did it with such a gracious spirit."

Lorenia embraced the call and was soon out in her community with her laptop and financial aid forms. Largely because of her efforts, 26 new Latino kids were enrolled that year. "Fr. Joe's idea of filling empty desks was very important," says Sr. Nancy. "Not all the kids had the money, but that's how we started. With the Hispanic Initiative, we have good scholarships offered by the Catholic Educational Foundation, our school discounts tuition, and families pay a portion of tuition. All have 'skin' in the game." She continues, "We made it that year and, when it was all said and done, we finished with $60 in the black."

Since those bleak days just two years ago, Aquinas Catholic Academy has more than doubled its number of Latino students and, for the first time in decades, enrollment has grown instead of declined. Going into the 2013-14 school year, 67 students from the Hispanic Initiative are registered. "We've experienced such renewal, Sr. Nancy says. "These families have enriched our community. They've given with such a spirit of generosity. From painting parts of the school on the weekends to donating a magnificent statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe that travels from one classroom to classroom, this community has brought new life to us and we are the better for it."

Meanwhile, Sr. Nancy realizes Aquinas Catholic Academy's process of transforming its school community has just begun, and she recognizes the need for increased teacher training for her faculty. She has been collaborating with ACE's English as a New Language (ENL) Program to help her teachers meet the unique academic needs of their increasingly diverse student population. Clare Roach, coordinator of the ENL program, adds, "It's a blessing to help support Sr. Nancy and her school. We're in awe of their grace-filled transformation and are so happy they're experiencing the many gifts of a culturally and linguistically rich community. We hope more Catholic schools are able to walk their path."


Summer Conferences Promote Excellence, Hope for Catholic Schools

Written by William Schmitt on Friday, 26 April 2013.

Educational Leaders Invited to Campus for Focused Conversations, Insights

Hundreds of educators and school leaders eager to enhance the future of Catholic schools will attend a unique collection of summertime conferences hosted annually by the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE).

The June and July conferences, some of which are currently accepting registrants, are part of ACE’s mission to sustain, strengthen, and transform Catholic schools. They are a growing component of the busy summers when ACE conducts the majority of its on-campus academic programming and graduate-level classes with the hope of inspiring the next generation of Catholic school teachers and leaders.

Preparation of outstanding college graduates to teach in Catholic schools is the organization’s best-known activity, now welcoming its 20th cohort of aspiring educators as ACE prepares a major celebration of the nation’s Catholic schools to mark its 20th anniversary.

The conferences are hosted by various ACE units that have grown in recent years to respond to particular issues and needs. Those interested in attending or learning more can visit these conferences’ respective web pages:

ACE Teaching Fellows Annual Conference (June 11-14). Participants in the Melody Family ACE Teaching Fellowship program convene to assess and catalyze their growth as master teachers, educational leaders, and generators of problem-solving research. Several benefactor-supported fellowships support highly promising educators who wish to continue their careers in Catholic classrooms while pursuing advanced knowledge and skills. Fellows cultivate these leadership assets along with their mentors during the conference.

Advocates for Parental Choice Symposium (June 14-19). This intensive formation experience gives participants a first-hand experience of people and places on the cutting edge in implementing school choice policies. Catholic school supporters will receive skills, insights, and working relationships to equip them as advocates in the parental choice movement. Major speakers on- and off-campus will increase these future leaders’ understanding of the social, legal, political, pedagogical, and moral dimensions of parental choice.

Play Like a Champion Today ® Sports Leadership Conference (June 21-23). This annual conference, titled “Character Education through Sports Leadership” for 2013, emphasizes developing the whole person through sports. Guest speakers offer professional development for coaches and athletic administrators at both the youth and high school levels. Hosted by ACE’s Play Like a Champion Today ® experts in sports as ministry, the conference gathers representatives of parochial leagues around the country to network and share best practices. Register for the Sports Leadership Conference.

Equitable Services Institute (June 23-28). Students in Catholic schools across the country are not getting federally funded services to which they’re entitled; this institute assists diocesan superintendents, principals, and other educational leaders to address this problem. Attendees will receive updated information about complex federal funding policies plus practical roadmaps for the process of consultations by which educators obtain equitable shares for their students from Title 1, Title 2, and Title 3 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Information and registration are available online.

Principals Academy (June 24-28). A four-day enrichment experience for Catholic school principals, entitled “Fueling the Fire of Leadership in Catholic Schools” for 2013, will engage expert faculty and practitioners as they develop an action plan to increase motivational practices for instruction, enrollment, and school identity. Principals will explore tangible, evidence-based strategies to increase teacher motivation and self-efficacy, improve supervision processes, and encourage teacher self-evaluation to improve the professional learning environment of schools. Register for this academy hosted by ACE Consulting.

Latino Enrollment Institute (June 25-28). The Catholic School Advantage campaign will invite principals from around the country to discuss strategic possibilities and pursue practical strategies to increase enrollment, particularly among Latino children, in Catholic schools.

Superintendents Strategic Leadership Conference (July 9-12). ACE Consulting will host its annual conference for diocesan schools superintendents, providing expert speakers and facilitating in-depth conversations to explore key issues faced by the invited school leaders.

School Pastors Institute (July 9-12). Pastors whose parishes include schools are invited to this annual institute to learn to manage and leverage better the distinctive relationship between a parish and its school. The Institute develops many skills and perspectives that a pastor will need in overseeing a parish school,its people, and its finances. Insights presented will support pastors’ reflections on the value of Catholic schools to parishioners and to the Church’s future.

Mary Ann Remick Leadership Conference (July 12). This conference, a capstone event for those earning their master’s degrees in educational administration through the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, is a unique and informal venue for South Bend-area educators to discuss current research with ACE leaders and experts from across the country. The graduate students preparing to serve as principals present the action research they have conducted, and local visitors attending free-of-charge exchange ideas on school challenges and solutions.

ACE Summer Forum (July 12-14). The ACE Summer Forum is a professional development opportunity for Catholic school supporters and ACE graduates, focusing on urgent needs in Catholic schools and how aadvocates can address them. This summer, Forum participants will discuss raising local awareness for Catholic schools and connecting local initiatives to the broader ACE movement.

ACE 19 Parent Retreat (July 24-26). Parents whose sons or daughters have just finished their first year in ACE Teaching Fellows often have many questions about these first-year teachers’ experiences. ACE Advocates hosts a special retreat for these parents at Notre Dame to get their questions answered and to see the broader context of the journey their ACE teachers are taking. The retreat also allows these parents of the ACE 19 cohort to hear presentations, worship together, and swap stories.

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