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Catholic School Advantage

Speaking to the Heart of What Parents Want for their Children

Written by Steve McClure on Thursday, 01 September 2016.

Know your audience. This age-old wisdom for public speaking is something we’ve all probably heard at one point or another. It often serves as a guiding principle for any successful marketing campaign and similarly has profound implications for developing an effective Latino recruitment strategy.

When Joana Camacho became principal of Sacred Heart Catholic School in Oklahoma City, she inherited a school that had just experienced a significant drop in enrollment, with no signs of that turning around any time soon. At the same time, the weekend Masses at Sacred Heart Parish were extremely well attended, in large part by Latino families with young children. Despite her efforts to reach out to this population, through a combination of open houses, traditional advertising techniques, and even speaking at some of the Spanish Masses, it wasn’t until she began to understand what Latino parents really wanted for their children that she was able to convey the most effective message.

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School Pastors’ Institute Extends Reach Across the Nation, Welcomes Largest Group of Pastors in Program’s History

on Thursday, 28 July 2016.

School Pastors’ Institute Extends Reach Across the Nation, Welcomes Largest Group of Pastors in Program’s History

This past summer marked the Catholic School Advantage Campaign’s sixth annual School Pastors’ Institute (SPI), a four-day conference held on Notre Dame’s campus designed to help pastors respond to the unique and increasingly complex challenges and opportunities related to serving as a pastor of a Catholic school.

Since the program first began in 2011, it has consistently garnered greater attention each year as word has spread, but this summer saw the most significant increase in participation as the SPI expanded to offer two separate weeks. 180 pastors from 67 different (arch)dioceses attended the Institute in July, bringing the total number of pastors who have participated in the SPI since its inception to 675, representing 127 different (arch)dioceses.

We were honored to welcome the Most Reverend Joseph W. Tobin, Archbishop of Indianapolis, and the Most Reverend Frank J. Caggiano, Bishop of Bridgeport, as the keynote speakers. In total, the SPI featured 18 different presenters and panelists who spoke on a number of topics, including the strengthening of Catholic identity in schools, financial management, strengthening the pastor-principal relationship, and recruitment and marketing strategies for attracting and better serving Latino families, to name a few.

The SPI also featured several tracks tailored to the unique needs of school pastors, including those who are first-time school pastors, those who are pastors of regional or combined school models, pastors of rural parish schools, and international priests who may be new to the U.S. Catholic school system.

It is because of the school pastor’s unique authority to articulate both the urgency and importance of this work that the School Pastors’ Institute plays such a vital role in the overall mission of the Catholic School Advantage Campaign. It is our hope that all who were in attendance this summer return to their parishes with a renewed sense of zeal for the Catholic school entrusted to their care, and we look forward to sharing with you the success stories that are sure to emerge over the coming year.

Latino Enrollment Institute Continues to Grow, Serve Latino Families and Catholic Schools

Manuel Fernandez on Monday, 18 July 2016.

63 schools selected to program's fifth cohort

Yvonne Schwab from St. James the Less Catholic School in Columbus, Ohio, is a mentor principal in the Latino Enrollment Institute. To see the rest of her story, and to learn more about the LEI, visit

“It was an honor to be selected to come to the LEI conference. It helped us to solidify everything that we have already been doing in our efforts to get the Latino community enrolled in our school.” – Kevin Clarke, Holy Name, Omaha

The Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) has become an integral part of the Alliance for Catholic Education's mission to give disadvantaged children the educational opportunities they need and deserve. In just its fifth year, the LEI has become the hallmark of the Catholic School Advantage Campaign as more principals focus on the opportunity to increase Latino enrollment in Catholic schools.

Catholic School Advantage Summer Preview

on Tuesday, 17 May 2016.

A Look Ahead at the Catholic School Advantage Campaign's Busiest Summer Yet

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As things begin to wind down in Catholic schools around the country, the Catholic School Advantage Campaign is preparing for what will be the busiest summer yet. Each year, these summer months serve as a launching point for a new cohort of Catholic school leaders in the Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI), as well as an opportunity to convene pastors from around the country at the School Pastors’ Institute (SPI).

These two groups routinely bring with them a surge of energy, but this summer, due to increased demand, that energy will increase twofold as we offer two weeks of each conference for the first time.

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The LEI will welcome 63 Catholic schools, representing 39 different (arch)dioceses, to participate in two four-day workshops, held on the campus of Notre Dame, June 19-22 and June 26-29. And providing further evidence of the growing commitment nationwide to both attract and better serve Latino families in Catholic schools, the LEI will welcome schools from nearly every corner of the country, from Stockton, California, to Staten Island, New York. In all, over 170 Catholic school leaders, ranging from principals, pastors, teachers, and enrollment and marketing coordinators, will gather to learn proven strategies, share best practices, and develop an action plan to more effectively reach out to and serve Latino families in their communities and schools.

With year-long principal mentorship being a core component of the program, the growth of the LEI has necessitated an expanded team of mentor principals. A group of 26 current and former Catholic school principals, most of whom participated in the LEI in the past and have been successful in increasing Latino enrollment in their schools, are an integral part of this initiative’s success.

Equally important as a committed principal in the mission to reach out to and serve Latino children and families is the school pastor. Schools with healthy enrollments, which have seen particular success in attracting and retaining Latino families, are often those that have pastors who embrace and endorse Catholic education in the Latino community.

 mg 6647The School Pastors’ Institute seeks to respond to this opportunity by inviting school pastors from around the country to attend a four-day workshop intended to help them develop skills in strengthening the Catholic identity, financial management, academic quality, and marketing of their schools, with special emphasis on Latino families. This coming summer, more than 200 school pastors will attend the SPI at Notre Dame over the course of two weeks, July 5-8 and July 11-14. These pastors will represent nearly 70 (arch)dioceses, 25 of which are new to the program this year.

While the Latino Enrollment Institute and the School Pastors’ Institute are just two of the many innovative workshops offered during the ACE summer, they have really become the core of the Catholic School Advantage Campaign’s mission strategy, and the themes which they address have become increasingly intertwined with everything that ACE does. The tremendous growth of these two initiatives is truly a testament to the desire and commitment of both Church and school leaders to revitalize our nation’s Catholic schools and help one the most underserved populations overcome the steep hurdle of unequal opportunity.

We are excited for the opportunity to invite these new mission partners to campus this summer, and we look forward to sharing their success stories in the year to come!

The Spirit Guides Them: LEI Inspires Remarkable Growth at Urban Cincinnati Catholic School

Written by Manny Fernandez on Thursday, 05 May 2016.

holy family schoolWhen Jenny O’Brien first became principal of Holy Family School six years ago, she noticed immediately that there were significant changes that needed to be made. One of the most glaring problems was that Latinos, who were becoming a large part of the community surrounding Holy Family Church, did not feel welcomed by the parish community. Furthermore, the student body at the school, at an all-time low, did not reflect the new demographics because there was little attempt to reach this burgeoning community of Latino families, most of whom had school-aged children. In 2010 the school was only six percent Latino, or nine of the 165 students. Jenny O’Brien saw this and sought to change it.

Jenny knew that this change would not come quickly nor easily. Change is a process—an oftentimes difficult and exhausting one that Jenny knew must be undertaken for the good of the school, the Latino community, and most importantly the mission and vision of Jesus’ Church. With the support of a new pastor, Jenny made sure the welcome mat was put out front and center for all God’s people.

Believing that change would be easier to bear if it came incrementally, Jenny wisely set out to gradually break down any barriers between the school and its surrounding Latino communities. “We started with the basics – a friendly smile, a welcoming spirit, learning a few words in Spanish, etc. We would “ooh” and “ahh” over all the children. Next, we posted signs in English and Spanish stating we were enrolling students for the next school year.”

From there, the Holy Family staff worked to ensure that Spanish-speaking families would feel the school was dedicated to communicating with them, that they were a part of the larger family. Most information sent home to parents was now in both English and Spanish. Translators were made available for conferences and school events. Jenny also knew it would be vital for all her staff to become experts in working with students for whom English is a second language. “I hand selected key staff members to send to various types of professional development on how to work with ESL students and families. From there, these teachers became cheerleaders for our Latino students and their families.”

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Attending the Alliance for Catholic Education’s Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) also played a large role in Holy Family’s turn around. “The LEI was an answered prayer,” Jenny recalls. The conference opened their eyes to a world that Jenny and her staff wanted to get to know more intimately, and they were shown the importance of faith to the Latino community. “Because of that, my staff found themselves going out into various neighborhoods where we knew our families were worshipping so as to share information about our school with them. We hoped that they would not only join our school, but also choose to worship with us as well.” A great form of evangelization dear to Pope Francis’ heart was taking root.

The LEI assigns each school a mentor principal and Yvonne Schwab, Jenny’s mentor, was a major influence on what Holy Family was to become. Jenny was able to tour Yvonne’s school and Yvonne was able to share many insights about the Latino community that her school serves. “It helped open my eyes to the plight of the Latino families. Yvonne shared things we had not dealt with until this year, such as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids.” Her mentor was also able to show Jenny the various changes that she had made to achieve the sense of family so vital to her Latino students and which Jenny implemented at Holy Family. And in a wonderful twist of fate, Kristen deVault, one of Yvonne’s teachers, was moving to Cincinnati and Kristen accepted an opening at Holy Family, where she is currently the ESL instructor.

The work that Jenny and the entire Holy Family staff and community put into reforming the school paid huge dividends. Enrollment is up from 165 total students just six years ago, to 227 students today, an increase of 38 percent. And Latino enrollment is up from just nine students in 2010, to 80 students in 2016, a remarkable increase of nearly 800 percent.

All the little things that Holy Family did to become a welcoming school for Latino families made an incredible difference in the lives of the children and families it serves. In the end, though, Jenny believes that the number one reason Latino families now feel at home at Holy Family – and most importantly, why they stay – is because of the school community’s welcoming spirit, a “Welcome” mat still implanted in each member’s heart. It is what attracts families of all backgrounds to the school and what hooks them once they are a part of the community. “We really do love each and every one of our families,” says Jenny. “And our hearts go out in a special way to our Latino families because of their plight. Their faith is so amazing and a testament to all of us.”

With that welcoming Spirit guiding them, there is no doubt that Holy Family Catholic School will continue to prosper and give more and more children the gift of a Catholic education.

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