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Catholic School Advantage

In the Spotlight: Manuel Fernandez Leading Latino Outreach Efforts in the LEI

on Thursday, 15 October 2015.

manuel fernandez headshotFor Manuel “Manny” Fernandez, the newest member of the Alliance for Catholic Education’s Catholic School Advantage team, service to the underprivileged and the importance of education have always been a way of life. A son of immigrant parents who both grew up in poverty—his mother, born in the Dominican Republic and growing up in Spanish Harlem, and his father a child of the Spanish Civil War —Manny was blessed with powerful witnesses to the impact of education as a proven pathway out of poverty. Growing up in Southern California, he watched both of his parents pay forward the opportunities that their education had afforded them by serving as teachers for over three decades in inner-city Los Angeles schools.

Following in the footsteps of his parents, Manny received his degree in Urban Learning—a teaching program designed specifically for educators working with at-risk children in impoverished neighborhoods—from California State University in Los Angeles. He then taught at St. Vincent Elementary School, a Daughters of Charity school located just south of the heart of downtown Los Angeles, for over eleven years.

While teaching in L.A., Manny became familiar with ACE through a number of interactions with Catholic school and archdiocesan administrators affiliated with the organization as either alumni or team members. Never did he expect, however, to find himself leaving the city he had always called home to move to South Bend, Indiana, where he’d play an integral role in advancing one of ACE’s most promising initiatives. But as providence would have it, South Bend is exactly where he landed. While teaching at St. Vincent School in L.A., Manny met his wife, Anne, a South Bend native and alumna of Notre Dame who was, at the time, serving as a Vincentian volunteer at the school. They were married three years later, and shortly thereafter headed to South Bend, Indiana, in order to be closer to family.

Manny quickly resumed his role in the classroom, teaching math and science to English language learners at Goshen Middle School for three years. Each year he was recognized by the state of Indiana for his students receiving the highest growth in test scores per the Indiana Department of Education’s testing growth module.

While always a devoted advocate of quality education, whether it be in public schools or private, Manny returned this past June to the mission in which his heart truly lies – transforming lives through Catholic education. Manny joined the Catholic School Advantage Campaign to lead the Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI), an initiative whose singular focus to close the Latino achievement gap by increasing access to Catholic schools for Latino families, paralleled the mission to which he had been devoted his whole life. “It’s just a perfect fit,” says Manny. “I have always worked with Latino children from low-income families, and working with ACE allows me to continue to do so, albeit on a macro-level. It’s a win-win situation, as not only do I get to play a role in making the gift of a Catholic education possible for Latino children, but we are also helping to sustain Catholic schools and ensure that they thrive in what can be a difficult climate.”

As the program director of the LEI, Manny will work closely with Catholic school principals and administrators around the country, helping to guide their Latino outreach and recruitment efforts. The LEI is currently in its fourth cohort, and since its inception in 2012, has worked with more than 110 schools. Manny is actively planning the LEI for the summer of 2016, exploring opportunities for growth, and serving as a personal mentor to five schools in the current cohort.

Manny and his wife, Anne, live in South Bend, Indiana, and have two children, Alyssa Rae (4) and Luke (1).

Celebrating Día de los Muertos: A Melding of Indigenous and Catholic Traditions

Written by Clare Roach, M.Ed. on Thursday, 15 October 2015.

Clare Roach, Coordinator of the English as a New Language (ENL) program, offers advice and resources for educators to celebrate the Latino cultural traditions of Día de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos 2Celebrating Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, in Catholic school classrooms in the United States is a magnificent way to encourage students to pray for and honor deceased family and friends. It also provides an opportunity for Mexican and Central American-origin students to witness their school community learning from the beauty and richness of their own cultural heritage. Observing Día de los Muertos in school doesn’t just help students celebrate their culture, it helps them sustain it.

Like Halloween, Día de los Muertos is a holiday linked to the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls in the Catholic liturgical calendar. But, unlike Halloween, which is largely about candy and parties, Día de los Muertos is a family-centered holiday that celebrates the lives of loved ones who have died and the generations of ancestors who have gone before us. From family picnics at grave sites to lavishly decorated home altars to the aroma of marigolds and pan de muerto, the celebration of Día de los Muertos is as beautiful as it is profound. The following resources and lessons will help children young and old learn about this magnificent holiday.



  • Dia de los Muertos 3Food for the Ancestors is a 60-minute DVD produced by PBS that explains Day of the Dead through food, art and celebration. It takes viewers to the streets, homes, bakeries, cemeteries and churches of Puebla, Mexico, and presents one of the most colorful, in-depth portraits of the holiday. Order this DVD from PBS for teachers to watch and integrate into their lessons.
  • Discover Day of the Dead is a 5-minute video from The Discovery Channel that shows a quick glimpse of how Day of the Dead is observed in Patzcuaro, Mexico.
  • The PBS cartoon characters, Maya and Miguel, explain the holiday to young viewers in a 22-minute episode. Here’s a two-minute snippet of the program in which Maya’s abuelita explains why the beautifully decorated calavera (skull) is so important to her.


Reading Materials

  • The November 2010 edition of Scholastic News magazine focuses exclusively on Día de los Muertos. You can find digital downloads of the magazine here.
  • "All Saint’s Day All Night" is beautiful story from Highlights for Kids magazine (November 2010 issue) that shows how a similar holiday is celebrated in Poland!  It provides another great opportunity to spotlight how different cultures celebrate the Feast of All Saints and All Souls.


Art and Activities

  • Create ofrendas: Have students make alters to celebrate loved ones who are deceased. This lesson plan from the University of North Carolina excellent ideas. Extensions of this activity include:
    • History: Create an ofrenda for historical figures.
    • Language Arts: Create an ofrenda for characters in a novel.
    • Religion: Create an ofrenda for a saint or decorate an altar in the church or cemetery on the school's property.
  • This Day of the Dead Educational Activity Guide is a wonderful collection of readings and activities (includes a step-by-step lesson on papel picado) produced by the Museum of Mexic-Arte in Austin, Texas. It takes a very cross-cultural perspective and provides multiple ideas for art activities.


Want to learn more about culturally sustaining pedagogy? Apply to the ENL Program today.


Photos by Nathan Solis, courtesy of the Eastsider LA.
Originally appeared in Students learn about love, death & Dia de los Muertos at an East L.A. cemetery, October 30, 2014.

Latino Enrollment Initiatives Gain Momentum as ND Conferences Convene Catholic School Leaders

Written by Steve McClure on Friday, 31 July 2015.

The University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) once again welcomed hundreds of visitors to campus this summer for a unique series of conferences and workshops, all dedicated to advancing ACE’s mission to sustain, strengthen, and transform Catholic schools. The Catholic School Advantage Campaign (CSA), ACE’s initiative to catalyze increased Latino enrollment in Catholic schools, engaged diverse stakeholders in cutting-edge discussions advancing the goal. 

Since the CSA’s inception, it has become increasingly evident that there is no factor more critical to the vibrancy of a K-12 Catholic school than the talent and disposition of its leadership. The willingness of well-qualified school administrators to assist in both recruiting Latino families and forming welcoming, culturally sensitive schools has been a major driver to extend the Catholic school advantage to more Latino families. Likewise, pastors who identify Latino enrollment as a parish priority and embrace the challenges associated with operating a Catholic school today play an integral role in the campaign. These two keys to success prompted ACE to develop the Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) and the School Pastors’ Institute (SPI). This summer marked the fourth and fifth annual LEI and SPI gatherings, respectively. Both institutes have seen attendance grow every year.

img 1526The Latino Enrollment Institute gives school principals, administrators, and teachers marketing strategies and school culture interventions to help Catholic schools attract and serve Latino families in the local community. The four-day program, which took place on Notre Dame’s campus June 21-24, included lectures and presentations from school leaders who have developed innovative Latino outreach programs. This year, the LEI welcomed over 100 participants, representing 34 schools and 26 (arch)dioceses. The principal from each school attended, along with one or two key staff or faculty members. Each school will continue to work with a mentor principal from the LEI Design Team, or corps of experts, throughout the upcoming academic year. The principals will also reconvene for a mid-year gathering, which serves as a great opportunity to evaluate progress, share successes and best practices, and discuss challenges and opportunities that arise during the first half of the school year.

The School Pastors’ Institute is a leadership formation symposium designed to help school pastors develop skills in strengthening the Catholic identity, financial management, academic quality, and recruitment and marketing strategies for attracting and better serving Latino families. Developed in 2011 at the explicit request of (arch)bishops and pastors from across the country, the SPI has grown to serve pastors from 99 different (arch)dioceses in the United States. As in past years, attendees returned to their parishes with fresh ideas and renewed vigor to embrace their parish Catholic schools as a blessing, not a burden. Pastors have a unique authority to articulate the urgency of extending the Catholic school advantage to Latino families, so it is all the more important that they understand the integral role they play. Many pastors who attended say they have progressed in inviting Latino families and boosting their visibility in the school. mg 9420

This summer's event, held July 7-10, welcomed over 120 pastors representing 55 (arch)dioceses. A team of ten presenters, including keynote speaker Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Diocese of Bridgeport, spoke on a wide array of topics pertinent to school pastors today. This year, the conference also included breakout sessions for more focused discussion on some of the unique situations in which a pastor today might find himself.

In addition to the LEI and the SPI, the Catholic School Advantage Campaign hosted a new conference this summer called Vámonos. This conference grew out of the recognition that some of the biggest enrollment gains occur when a school leader delegates the task of identifying, recruiting, and welcoming new Latino families to an individual or a team. Whether this be at the parish-school level, through a diocesan-wide initiative, or in a separate organization collaborating with other entities, a strategic plan for Latino outreach, along with people dedicated to making connections, is the crucial combination.

With this in mind, the four-day Vámonos program, convened recruiters, marketing and enrollment coordinators, field consultants, and even principals and school administrators on campus, June 14-17. More than 80 people from 38 (arch)dioceses addressed inter-cultural competency, understanding differences among the various Latino cultures and generations, the madrinas marketing model and school finances. The goal was to provide a forum for sharing best practices, so that the individuals who are out in the field, promoting Catholic schools within the Latino community every day, could learn from one another.img 0173

There is no better sign of the momentum that the Catholic School Advantage Campaign is gaining than the growing interest we have seen in the summer conferences. As the Latino population continues to grow throughout the country, an increasing number of schools and (arch)dioceses are seeking strategies to reach out and serve Latino children and families better. Amid all of the research, analysis, and strategic planning that will continue to guide this evolving campaign, it is ultimately the work of leaders like those who attended the campus gatherings that will carry the mission forward.

This summer also reminded everyone how much work we have yet to do. May God continue to bless this work and the efforts of participants in all aspects of this campaign.

Three Simple Words Bring About Extraordinary Growth at Phoenix Catholic School

Written by Steve McClure on Friday, 31 July 2015.

“Available, affordable, and accessible.” There isn’t a staff or faculty member at St. Vincent de Paul School in Phoenix, Arizona, who hasn’t practiced saying this phrase. As principal, Sr. Julie Kubasak, D.C., made sure that this message was consistently communicated by each and every member of her team, so that all families who desired a Catholic education for their children knew that St. Vincent de Paul School could provide that opportunity.

svdp school cross

Sr. Julie, who served as the school’s principal for eight years, from 2007 to 2015, is a member of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul and has over 25 years of experience in education. She has also served as a mentor principal for ACE’s Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) since the program’s inception in 2012.

When Sr. Julie first began at St. Vincent de Paul, she received what she refers to as a “wake-up call.” Seeing hundreds of unfamiliar children’s faces in the pews at the parish’s Sunday Spanish Mass—a Mass that she quickly learned requires an early arrival in order to get in the door, let alone get a seat—prompted her to ask families if they had ever thought about sending their children to St. Vincent de Paul School.

Being in a predominantly low-income, Hispanic neighborhood, perception of the school was one of the biggest obstacles Sr. Julie and her team had to overcome. She quickly discovered that many families had never even considered the school an option because they assumed that it was not affordable. In fact, some of the parish families weren’t even aware of the school’s existence, even though the church is surrounded by the school. As Sr. Julie and her staff worked to dispel many of the misconceptions and misinformation about the affordability of a Catholic education, more families started coming.

“We realized that we had to get the message out—not only about our school, but about our mission to make Catholic education available, affordable, and accessible,” says Sr. Julie. These three words truly became the mantra of the school’s staff, and everyone communicated this same message to prospective families, whether it was the secretary, a teacher, or the school custodian. “That’s something we’ve been committed to all along, but people didn’t know it. It’s a charism of who we are as Daughters of Charity. It’s a charism of the mission of Catholic education, to reach out and make it possible,” she says.

svdp school students 3

Promoting the school at Sunday Mass became part of Sr. Julie's regular routine, but she notes that new families really started coming into the school when parents began spreading the word. “It became even more compelling when of our parents spoke at the Masses. Typical testimonials might begin, ‘It’s true. I never thought my kids could go here, but I have three students at the school and I love it and here’s why.”

Today, St. Vincent de Paul has reached a point where the majority of the school's marketing is simply word-of-mouth. The school is almost entirely Latino, so the relationships that Sr. Julie and her staff have built with the families have a tremendous impact—with the early adopters going out and inviting their friends and their families to consider the school.

Since 2008, St. Vincent de Paul has experienced enrollment gains of more than ten percent each year. When Sr. Julie first began as principal, enrollment was just under 300 students. Today, enrollment has more than doubled, and four additional classrooms have been added to accommodate the school’s growing enrollment.

“The whole process has never been solely about bringing up our numbers,” says Sr. Julie. “It’s about being true to our mission and being true to the mission of Catholic education. As we did what we needed to do to be welcoming and inviting, it just happened.” Now, with 658 students already registered for the upcoming school year, St. Vincent de Paul School has again met and exceeded their enrollment goals for the seventh consecutive year.

svdp school students with our lady

One major change in store for this year, however, is that Sr. Julie will no longer lead the school as its principal. She recently began service as a provincial administrator for her community but will remain very involved with the school. Sr. Julie’s role on her province’s Leadership Team will now allow her to have an even broader impact as she works with ten schools co-sponsored by the Daughters of Charity throughout California and Arizona. She will also continue to serve as a mentor principal for the Latino Enrollment Institute, helping other schools adopt similar practices to better reach out to and serve Latino children.

The school’s dramatic enrollment gains have prompted a slightly modified administrative structure, now being led by a director, who will work hand in hand with the principal. Sr. Cabrini Thomas, D.C., the school’s new director, has decades of experience serving in Catholic schools as both a teacher and an administrator. She will work closely with the new principal, Mr. Enrique Diaz, who served as the school’s assistant principal for seven years, and thus knows the momentum of the school. “I have no doubts that St. Vincent de Paul is in great hands!”, says Sr. Julie.

Transformational school leaders are far more than administrators. The way the entire staff and faculty at St. Vincent de Paul have worked together to build a sustainable school culture of academic excellence and inclusion, testifies to the impact that Sr. Julie has had. Those three words that have guided the school’s messaging to families desiring a Catholic education—available, affordable, and accessible—are so ingrained in the school’s mission that there is little doubt that St. Vincent de Paul will continue to thrive and touch the lives of countless children who never thought a Catholic education could be possible.

Four Lessons Catholic Educators Should Consider When Recruiting Latino Students

Written by Bill Schmitt on Tuesday, 07 July 2015.

A principal who’s a proven recruiter of Latino students into Catholic schools sees four lessons to learn as the Alliance for Catholic Education’s many-faceted campaign to serve more kids from all backgrounds continues to evolve.

Mary Flock, who leads St. Gertrude the Great School in Bell Gardens, CA, came to Notre Dame for the Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) in 2011 to hear the first iteration of guidelines for more inclusive and accessible Catholic schools.

She put them into practice, and total enrollment jumped from a nadir of 42 to today’s 175 students. Flock returned to campus recently and offered her to-do list for an evolving campaign: four takeaways to inform your school’s efforts to welcome and recruit new families.

4 lessons latino students fb graphic final

Fair models of tuition flexibility based on need are crucial to a school’s mission and identity, but apply these models by combining sensitivity, full information, and mutual responsibility.

Sliding tuition scales, imperative if inner-city schools are to remain open, affordable, and mission-focused, can be scary, Flock said. In the past, school and parish leaders often feared that any “negotiation” of tuition levels would spark abuses and complaints. But flexibility works if the context combines responsiveness to needs, enduring relationships, and enforced responsibilities.

Many families in financial hardship who still want a quality education for their children approach Flock with requests for assistance, and she’s ready to listen, but she requires a two-way understanding. “I interview all of my families.” She can make arrangements that adjust to temporary crises, but she tells parents, “You’ve got to check in with me every month” so she’s informed of changing conditions. If families don’t communicate, she can withdraw special tuition breaks, and improprieties—which she has found are rare—can result in a student’s expulsion.

The compassionate commitment to make a quality education available to kids from all backgrounds is inseparable from fairness and accountability, Flock said. "It all boils down to: Am I staying true to the mission?" She has seen very little manipulation, and parent complaints about cost are small compared to their appreciation for the school’s values: “It’s the integrity of the situation that I uphold, not the nitpicking of the details.”

2. Expect every path to a more culturally responsive school to take its own turns over time, generating new ideas and opportunities to learn.

Outreach strategies that might have seemed like unilateral, one-size-fits-all approaches early in this decade gain new dimensions as principals from different communities report their unique experiences, Flock said. Novices still want basic insights—tips about multi-cultural openness, sliding tuition scales, etc.—as workable first steps. But those who have made strides now have follow-up questions and new ideas, like those voiced at the LEI every June.

For example, while many LEI schools had recruited madrinas—women highly respected in local Latino communities—to promote their schools, most volunteers who stepped forward to serve in Flock’s Los Angeles-area community were men, or padrinos.

Flock suggests that recruiters routinely ask those principals enjoying enrollment turnarounds, “What are you doing, and how can we help you be a change-maker?”

3. Identify and reach out to benefactors who share a passion for Catholic schools of the future, but earn their support in real time, through authentic relationships, focusing on the students.

Growing awareness of Catholic schools’ legacy as a lifeline for generations of immigrants has stirred support among benefactors and philanthropic organizations, Flock said. More principals and pastors now need to understand the dynamics of these valued partnerships.

Flock’s experience reflects the need for personal trust, honest encounters, and proven leadership. Generous donors she has worked with want to see quality people comfortable in the school, with reasonable growth prospects already in the offing, not a setting of decline and desperation.

She said benefactors ask, “Does your school have the capacity to grow, and if so, what is your vision for growing it? What enrollment numbers are you looking for? A lot of the focus is capacity-building and leadership and transparency.” Flock said supporters resonate with her intention: “I do it for the kids.”

4. Expect to be surprised by the “side-effects” from a school’s commitment to serve the disadvantaged, boost enrollment, and share its own Catholic character.

No one outline of Latino enrollment strategies can anticipate or encapsulate all the different impacts that arise in individual schools. Each principal will implement the strategies according to his or her personality, and it’s important for principals to be themselves—“not trying to please everybody,” Flock said. Indeed, schools have their own personalities, and it helps if a core charism adds consistency and joy to encounters with different cultures. Flock draws strength from her own school’s Salesian values.

“Every one of my teachers knows every kid’s name,” and the students visit her with suggestions and dreams because they know “they’re kids whom we love.”

Commitments and initiatives like those shared by principals nationwide through ACE’s annual Latino Enrollment Institute can have impacts far beyond a school’s visual appeal or financial and strategic changes. Flock said she left her first Institute meeting with a new confidence that a turnaround was possible for St. Gertrude. “It was the idea of hope,” and it proved contagious to staff members, parents, and students. ACE’s work has indeed prompted personal transformations. When Flock arrived in 2011, “the kids felt squashed,” she said. “It was a poor school with a poor man’s mentality. Now, in the last two years, our students have blossomed.”


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