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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.

Roundtable

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.

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