For the past three years, I have had the honor and privilege of serving as the Field Consultant for the Catholic School Advantage (CSA) Campaign in Los Angeles. Working with a total of 20 schools, I have been charged with the duties of providing consulting services to principals in order to design and implement marketing and recruitment strategies that will increase the number of Latino families who enroll their children in their Catholic schools. The CSA Campaign presents us with the challenge of reaching and engaging more Latino families in our nation's Catholic schools, but more importantly, it presents us with the opportunity to educate our Latino community about the legacy of the Catholic school system in the United States and the positive impact it can have on children's lives.
Carrying out this mission in Los Angeles has been quite a homecoming for me. As the daughter of Mexican immigrants who figured out a way to send their five children to Catholic school, I know first-hand the sacrifices that parents with very limited means have to make in order to make a Catholic education a reality for their children, and I can attest to the lifelong advantages that come about as a direct result of receiving a Catholic education. Additionally, I've carried out the majority of my work in my native East Los Angeles where I get to work with my alma mater!
As a consultant, part of my job is to conduct an overall appraisal of the schools with which I work. I need to determine a school's strengths and weaknesses in order to leverage our marketing plan appropriately. It is also part of my work to conduct enrollment management sessions with principals and develop strategies to fill the biggest enrollment gaps. My approach has been to focus as much as possible on filling up the primary grades to capacity, which include Preschool/Pre-K/Transitional Kindergarten through second grade. With this strategy being implemented year after year, a school will see overall enrollment gains throughout its grade levels overtime. One of the biggest lessons I've learned is that everything with regards to recruitment is intentional. There are no coincidences or lucky trends. The positive energy, quality of work, and the specific plans (i.e., curriculum plans, financial plans, marketing and recruitment plans, etc.) that a principal and his or her staff implement in their school will establish the momentum for attracting more families. In conjunction with these efforts is the organization of a marketing and recruitment team. Perhaps the most important and most efficient strategy that I have implemented on a broad scale with CSA partner schools in L.A. is a culturally-responsive parent ambassador program known as Madrinas.
The Madrinas Marketing Model is based on the principal's ability to identify a group of mothers and/or grandmothers (Not meant to exclude fathers or grandfathers, who should, by all means, be welcomed too!) who have a history or background with your parish school community. Typically, I recommend that principals seek out those parents who are engaged and active in both the parish and school community, have a broad network or are well-connected with the community, have a deep love and appreciation for your school, a desire to see the school thrive, and feel passionate about sharing the gift of Catholic education with other families, especially with other Latino families.
The Madrinas Marketing Model is a grassroots approach to marketing and recruitment. A group of mothers will take the "word of mouth" strategy to a heightened level by intentionally creating opportunities to engage families from the parish and the surrounding community in the life of the school. Madrinas are able to accomplish this by extending personal invitations to new families to visit the school, while educating these families about the life-long advantages that Catholic schools offer. Madrinas will further assist these families by facilitating the follow-up process, and keeping momentum and interest going until the family is able to meet with the principal and determine if the school is the right fit for their child. Madrinas are also instrumental in accompanying these families throughout the registration process by assisting them with school registration materials and financial aid paperwork.
One of our success stories in Los Angeles comes from Our Lady of the Holy Rosary School in Sun Valley, California. Located in the northeast valley of Los Angeles, Our Lady of the Holy Rosary has served the community since 1950. In 1983, the Sister Servants of the Blessed Sacrament took over the administration of the school and continue to this day. The school has traditionally served a diverse student population – primarily white, Filipino, and Latino – from preschool through eighth grade. However, in the last decade, the Latino population has surged significantly in the area of Sun Valley.
I began my work at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in July 2012, at which time the school had experienced a decline in enrollment. They were slightly below 200 students, whereas in the years prior, they had been serving a student population of over 250 students. The principal, Sister Remedios Aguilar, a native of Mexico City, heard about the Catholic School Advantage Campaign and felt that her school was a perfect fit. She was absolutely right!
We immediately began our work by organizing a group of about 5 mothers during the summer of 2012 to participate in the Madrinas Marketing Team. (Since that time, our group has grown to about 8 madrinas.) We divided the madrinas into four teams: Parish Outreach, Preschool/Day Care Outreach, Community Outreach and the Follow-up Team. Each team selected a leader who would be tasked with keeping their volunteers informed and organized about upcoming activities. Given the small number of madrinas, some decided to join more than one team to assist in recruiting and organizing additional parent volunteers who are not "official" members of the Madrinas group, but are willing to help out with recruitment efforts from time to time.
The Parish Team is in charge of facilitating an organized outreach effort within the parish community. This included organizing Sunday Mass recruitment drives, outreach to key parish ministries, and outreach to the families with children in religious education (There are hundreds!). Furthermore, the pastor, Father Marvin, has designated a bulletin board in the lobby exclusively for the school, so the Madrinas Parish Outreach Team will consistently update the bulletin board with the latest news about the school, inviting the community to "check them out!"
The Preschool/Day Care Team is in charge of making contacts with various preschools and day care facilities in the surrounding community. Madrinas have extended personal invitations to these families and have established ongoing communication with preschool directors and day care owners to keep their families informed about upcoming open houses and other opportunities to visit the school. Last year, the Madrinas hosted a Merienda (an early-evening light meal, usually consisting of coffee or tea and a light snack) where they invited local day care owners, who are predominately Spanish-speaking Latinos. Many of these day care owners were grateful for the opportunity to also promote their own business and mentioned that it was the first time another "business" in the community had reached out to them. Because of this positive interaction, these day care owners have consistently referred families to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.
The Community Outreach Team is in charge of making the school visible in the surrounding community. The Madrinas conduct active recruitment efforts at local shopping centers, grocery stores, community centers, parks and recreation programs, libraries and at various community events. For the Madrinas whose time is limited, the Community Outreach Team has been a great way for them to support the school with minimal time commitment, simply through social networking within their communities. They always have their Madrinas Recruitment Packet on hand, prepared to talk about their school should the opportunity present itself.
Finally, the Follow-up Team is perhaps the most important team. There's no point in marketing the school if we don't have a protocol for following up with interested families. At Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, a team of madrinas will collect all of the interest cards from the various recruitment activities. They assist the principal and front office staff by conducting follow-up phone calls and will make themselves available to schedule school visits or tours with prospective families. Furthermore, these madrinas are instrumental in assisting interested families in filling out all initial registration materials, especially any financial aid applications. Key to the success of this team has been an established protocol so that the madrinas can keep Sister Remedios informed of all interested families, as well as any necessary meetings to explore additional financial assistance options.
In the fall of 2012, Our Lady of the Holy Rosary began their school year with a total of 193 students, of which 158 were Latino. In the fall of 2013, they began the school year with 231 total students, 213 of whom are Latino. That is a 20 percent increase in total enrollment and a 35 percent increase in Latino enrollment! Quite a testament to the impact that the Madrinas Marketing Model can have when the right team with the right intentions and enthusiasm is assembled.
Last but certainly not least, it's important to mention that retention is a significant part of enrollment management. It's one thing to recruit, but another to retain families. I would encourage all principals to consistently survey their currently registered parents to gauge their level of satisfaction. Offering a suggestion box is one way to do this, following up by reporting back to parents on certain improvements or changes you are making as a result of their feedback. Make sure you conduct a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) and create a plan to leverage your strengths, improve your weaknesses, build on your opportunities, and minimize the threats. Be honest and open, especially with yourself, and stay positive and upbeat! God is always on and by our side!