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Latino Families in Near Eastside Neighborhood Find a Home at St. Philip Neri School

on Monday, 28 October 2013.

Latino Families in Near Eastside Neighborhood Find a Home at St. Philip Neri School

St. Philip Neri Catholic School, located in the 44-square-block area just east of downtown Indianapolis known as the Near Eastside, is part of the Mother Theodore Catholic Academies, a consortium of schools committed to closing the achievement gap for low-income and minority students in urban areas of Indianapolis. In a neighborhood that is notorious for high rates of crime and poverty, St. Philip Neri School stands as a sign of hope for the children and community that it serves.

While Indianapolis may not be home to the largest or fastest growing Latino population in the country, St. Philip Neri School reflects quite a different reality. In the past decade, the school has undergone a remarkable demographic shift, experiencing an increase in Latino enrollment from 13% in 2003 to 99% today. With nearly 100 percent Latino enrollment, it is one example of the many extraordinary urban Catholic schools that have found new life in serving the Latino community.

CSW - February 2011The transformation of St. Philip Neri School into a thriving institution to which a great number of Latino families entrust their children's intellectual and spiritual formation could not have been achieved without the tireless efforts of the school's leadership - former principal, Mary McCoy and current principal, Gary Asher. Both graduates of the ACE Remick Leadership Program at the University of Notre Dame, Mrs. McCoy and Mr. Asher are well equipped as educational and spiritual leaders and possess the strategies needed to foster successful school community. Mary served as principal of St. Philip Neri for seven years, until this past July when she accepted a position as Assistant Superintendent of Instruction for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Although truly effective and transformative school leadership is not easy to replace, St. Philip Neri School could not be in better hands as Gary Asher, after having served five years as assistant principal alongside Mrs. McCoy, has assumed the role of principal.

When Mrs. McCoy first came to St. Philip Neri in 2006, there were 151 students enrolled in the school with 83% Latino. Having stepped into the role in the middle of a demographic shift that was clearly well underway, Mrs. McCoy refuses to take much credit for the influx of Latino students to the school. However, with a respective 52% and 31% passing rate in language arts and math on the ISTEP, as well as years of high faculty turnover, much work needed to be done in order to effectively serve this new population.

Mrs. McCoy had to hire several new teachers in her first year on the job, but took a very intentional approach to transforming the school environment, creating a welcoming community, and also setting high expectations for academics, attendance, and discipline. Since her first year as principal, St. Philip Neri has seen a significant increase in ISTEP scores – 75% passing in language arts and 72% in math – as well as successive years of enrollment increases. The most recent school year finished with 209 students and 99% Latino, and 220 are already registered for this upcoming year.

While St. Philip Neri reflects many of the best practices identified by the Notre Dame Task Force on the Participation of Latino Children and Families in Catholic Schools, Mrs. McCoy and Mr. Asher both agree that the factors that have contributed most to their successful recruitment and retention of Latino families have been the natural social networks existing within the Latino community, and a school environment with which Latino families can immediately identify. 

IMG 0044When a family walks into the front office of St. Philip Neri School, they are greeted by Maria Lomeli at the front desk, the school's administrative assistant. Maria began working at St. Philip Neri in 2004, which Mrs. McCoy notes is probably one of the main reasons why the Latino enrollment grew so quickly. Maria is originally from Tala, a small town in the Mexican state of Jalisco, which is where many of the school's families are from, many of whom are first-generation immigrants. "Having Maria at our front desk eliminates any language barriers that could potentially exist for our current and prospective families and her influence within the Latino community cannot be overemphasized," says Mrs. McCoy. In addition to Maria, several other members of the St. Philip Neri School staff are from Tala, forging an even stronger sense of community amongst the staff, students, and parents. Mr. Asher also mentions that the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe at the front entrance of the school is "an immediate message to Hispanic families that they belong here." While the use of this widely recognized symbol of Latino Catholicism and a bilingual staff member in the front office are just two simple examples of a culturally responsive school environment, their presence speaks volumes.

When asked what recruitment and marketing strategies they employ, both Mrs. McCoy and Mr. Asher said that retention has been their main focus, not recruitment. "If we can retain our students, our recruitment issue is solved," says Mrs. McCoy. "The word is out about St. Philip Neri School." While no Catholic school is exempt from at least some form of outreach to maintain enrollment, the existing social networks in the community surrounding St. Philip Neri have left very little of the recruitment and marketing to Mrs. McCoy and her staff. "Word spreads quickly in the community about our school. Parents know that if they want their children in pre-K, they have to register in January,"she says.

With their focus on student retention and providing the best educational experience possible, Mrs. McCoy and Mr. Asher identified cultural awareness as a primary concerns regarding the commitment of teaching in a school with nearly 100% Latino enrollment. Thus professional development for teachers and staff addressing cultural awareness would be essential. Some of the ideas that they implemented were bringing in a panel of Latino parents from which the faculty could learn about the culture, expectations, and desires parents had for their children, training from a state-level professional on culturally responsive teaching methods, and even ideas as simple as emphasizing from the very beginning of the interview process that being a teacher at St. Philip Neri School means being an ENL teacher. Furthermore, as part of the Remick Leadership Program, Mary conducted an action research project on school culture at St. Philip Neri, consisting of a pre- and post-survey of 18 faculty and staff members to both gauge the knowledge, attitude, feelings, mindset, and needs of teachers working in an urban school with a large Hispanic enrollment, and to determine the impact of professional development programs focusing on Hispanic culture. The findings of the study showed that participation in cultural awareness workshops had a very positive influence on staff and teachers, and as a result, these workshops have become routine at St. Philip Neri School.

While there are a few changes in store for this upcoming school year - particularly that of leadership - St. Philip Neri School will certainly continue to thrive. Mr. Asher has been instrumental in making St. Philip Neri a place of intellectual and spiritual growth that countless Latino families in the Near Eastside call home. And although it's not easy to leave a place she has grown to love so much, Mrs. McCoy won't be far away and will continue to serve Indianapolis Catholic schools with the Archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education. The dramatic transformation of both culture and student achievement under the direction of Mrs. McCoy and Mr. Asher at St. Philip Neri School is a true testament to the possibilities that arise when committed and capable Catholic school leaders embrace the changing community around them and provide for the fullest experience of the Catholic school advantage.

Madrinas Serve as Bridge for Latino Families: Boost Enrollment at Corpus Christi - Holy Rosary School

Written by Steve McClure on Thursday, 17 October 2013.

CCHR MadrinasAbout 30 miles north of Midtown Manhattan in the working-class village of Port Chester, New York, Corpus Christi-Holy Rosary School has a long history of educating the children of immigrant families. Like many other U.S. cities that were at one time destinations for European immigrants during the 19th and early 20th centuries, Port Chester finds itself undergoing a dramatic transformation due to a recent wave of immigrants from Latin America. Today, 59 percent of the town's residents are of Hispanic origin, contributing to a population increase of 17 percent in the past 20 years - twice as fast as Westchester County as a whole. This immigrant influx, described by Port Chester's director of planning and development, Christopher Gomez, as the "lifeblood" of the town, has brought new life to a city that fell on hard times in recent decades. For the principal of Corpus Christi-Holy Rosary, Sister Lou Ann Fantauzza, a Salesian Sister, this has been especially true as she has seen consecutive years of enrollment increases and a school culture that has been further enriched by the presence of the school's Hispanic students and their families.

Rooted in the Salesian tradition of St. John Bosco, Corpus Christi-Holy Rosary School has provided academic and spiritual formation to the children of immigrant families for over 65 years in an environment of faith, optimism, and family spirit. Similar to many other communities throughout the country, however, shifting demographics have presented entirely new cultural realities that have come with their own set of opportunities and challenges. One of the biggest and most prevalent of these challenges is the inefficacy of traditional recruitment and marketing strategies within the rapidly growing Latino population. Corpus Christi Holy Rosary School has responded to this challenge with faith, tenacity, and creativity, embracing the town's Latino community through the efforts of the school's madrinas. 

 The Notre Dame Task Force that studied the participation of Latino children and families in Catholic schools found that schools that extend personal, one-on-one invitations to Latino families have more success than those that extend blanket invitations. This statement is evidenced clearly in CCHR's recent enrollment success through the Madrinas initiative. Corpus Christi-Holy Rosary is one of 28 CSA partner schools in the Archdiocese of New York receiving need-based scholarships for newly enrolled Latino students who have been referred to the school by a madrina. These madrinas, literally meaning "godmothers," serve an indispensable role in connecting the school to Latinos in the surrounding community, informing families about the benefits and accessibility of a Catholic education, as well as mentoring new families through their transition to Catholic schooling.

This past school year 22 new families enrolled at CCHR through the madrinas program, which Sr. Lou Ann says "would not have been possible without the exceptional group of women who have volunteered their time in service to the school." Judi DeSouter, the school's Director of Development and Student Recruitment further notes that such an exceptional team does not come together without clear vision and intentionality when selecting the madrinas. "Sr. Lou Ann has identified outstanding parents who are proactive, creative thinkers, and have gone out into the community and really hit the ground running," says Ms. DeSouter, "They truly are part of the internal workings of the school and have a sense of ownership. They devise new ideas because they are in the community, amongst the parents, and constantly identify new and changing opportunities."

The madrinas, Silvia Sical, Milena Carvalho and Nadeya DeDiago work to thoughtfully craft plans and efforts that meet the needs and expectations of Latino families. "It's such a productive collaboration," says Ms. DeSouter. "Our madrinas are incredibly personable, can make meaningful conversation easily, and they have generated so much interest in our school.

CCHR StudentAmong the madrinas at CCHR, there is one in particular whose dedication and hard work have established her as an outstanding leader. "The three madrinas work incredibly well together and take the job very seriously. And Nadeya is definitely the trailblazer within our group. She is a class act – a true treasure who inspires and coaches others," says Sr. Lou Ann. On many a Sunday, Ms. DeSouter meets with Mrs. DeDiago to discuss any news on the recruitment front and any opportunities or challenges the team is facing. Ms. DeSouter noted, "When I first saw Nadeya interact with prospective families, I thought she had a background in sales because she is so successful in connecting with parents. I don't think I have ever seen a parent walk away saying, "no thanks." Because of the strength of the CCHR madrinas, the school had a waiting list of 35 kids for enrollment this year.

Although Sr. Lou Ann and Ms. DeSouter are blessed with an outstanding group of madrinas, the support of the archdiocese and its partnership with ACE's Catholic School Advantage campaign have been instrumental in the success of this program as well. Thanks to generous donor support and the fundraising efforts of Dr. Timothy McNiff, Superintendent of Schools in the Archdiocese of New York, Madrinas scholarships were available to over 400 new students throughout the archdiocese this past year. In addition, Rudy Vargas IV, CSA field consultant in New York, has been working on the ground with schools throughout the archdiocese to help establish Madrinas programs. Ms. DeSouter notes that "without Rudy's leadership, guidance, training, and continued partnership, this effort would not be nearly as successful as it is now." Although little training and professional development has been needed for the madrinas at CCHR, Rudy has always been available to help resolve issues, aid in initial training, get others involved, and give counsel to develop culturally appropriate messaging for advertisements and marketing materials.

In addition to adopting more culturally responsive recruiting techniques, CCHR School has created an environment in which students of all cultures can feel at home, with special emphasis these days on embracing the various cultures of the school's Latino population. Sr. Lou Ann notes, "Our community has a deep appreciation for and understanding of the immigrant reality. We're open to the suggestions of our madrinas that everything be a family event." Ms. DeSouter goes on to say, "as a Salesian school, we aim to be home, school, church, and playground. It's a very faith and joy-filled setting in which the opportunities to include the children's culture and include their families are many." Whether it be the Hispanic religious iconography in the hallways, celebrations honoring saints revered in the Latino community, or welcoming children who may not speak English proficiently just yet, Corpus Christi-Holy Rosary has embraced Port Chester's changing demographics and been tremendously successful. Through the tireless efforts of the school's leadership, the dedication of their madrinas, and the committed families who contribute to and entrust their children's formation to the school, Corpus Christi-Holy Rosary has truly become a beacon of hope to families in the village of Port Chester.

The Catholic School Advantage Featured on Univision

on Wednesday, 09 October 2013.

CSA Consultant Sylvia Armas-Abad Highlighted Strength of Catholic Schools in Los Angeles

View the Segment

In conjunction with the events surrounding ¡Es El Momento! and Education Week, Univisión aired a segment focusing specifically on Catholic schools in Los Angeles on the network news program, Aquí y Ahora, on Sunday, Oct. 6 at 7:00 p.m. EDT. The segment featured 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.”

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.

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