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Catholic School Advantage

Latino Enrollment Institute Inspires Growth in Texas Catholic School

on Monday, 11 January 2016.


St. Catherine of Siena Catholic School is the only Catholic school in Port Arthur, Texas in the Diocese of Beaumont. Almost 70 percent of the students are from underserved minority groups, with the majority of the students living in economically disadvantaged homes. The Hispanic population is rapidly increasing in Southeast Texas, and today there are an estimated 84,000 Hispanics living within the diocesan borders.

In 2014 St. Catherine School, with the help of its dynamic principal Haidee Todora, turned to the Latino Enrollment Institute for support in enrolling this growing demographic. Catholic Extension subsidized Haidee’s participation in the LEI at the University of Notre Dame. This program identifies and assists Catholic schools with a substantial unmet capacity and motivates principals by teaching them and select faculty leaders how to transform their schools to attract and serve Latino students more effectively.

Read more about St. Catherine of Siena School's story at

Las Posadas: A Journey to Find Room for Jesus at Christmas

Written by Katy Lichon, Ph.D. on Tuesday, 08 December 2015.

Katy Lichon, Ph.D., Director of the English as a New Language (ENL) program, offers advice and resources for educators to celebrate the Latino cultural tradition of Las Posadas

CampusLasPosadasWalkIf your school has Mexican-origin families, the celebration of Advent might center around the vibrant reenactment of seeking posada, Spanish for accommodation or an inn. Las Posadas is a nine day celebration beginning December 16th and ending December 24th (Noche Buena) that commemorates Mary’s nine months of carrying Jesus in the womb.

The Las Posadas procession typically includes two individuals dressed up as María and José with a crowd of angels, shepherds, wise men, pilgrims carrying poinsettias, and musicians. The group carries candles and sings La Canción Para Pedir Posada, an interactive song of begging for shelter. The song’s verses are sung alternately by the crowd outside and the family inside. Eventually the crowd is welcomed into a different home each night where they typically recite a rosary around a nativity scene, enjoy a meal, and break open star-shaped piñatas representing the star of Bethlehem.

The traditional Mexican celebration has deep roots in Spanish Catholicism and Aztec culture. The celebration recreates the scene of Joseph and Mary searching for shelter in Bethlehem. By celebrating Las Posadas in our Catholic schools classrooms, we can draw attention to our own journey to find room for Jesus at Christmas as well as participate in and honor a rich tradition of our Latino students.

Here are a few resources that will help you better understand the celebration of Las Posadas and incorporate it into your instruction. 

  1. Start by introducing Las Posadas to your students. This fun and heartfelt video explains the tradition of Las Posadas.

  2. Learn how to celebrate Las Posadas with the help of this short guide for lay leaders, musicians, and clergy. The Canto Para Pedir Posada is central to any posadas celebration. This article provides the lyrics in both Spanish and English, and this video provides the music, as well as the lyrics.

  3. Incorporating the posadas traditions into your classroom instruction is a great way to engage students in this rich cultural tradition. Check out this series of fantastic lessons plans related to Las Posadas, as well as this unit on piñatas.

  4. For a more in-depth look at Las Posadas, here are some great books to read in class: The Night of Las Posadas, Uno, Dos, Tres, Posada!, and The Legend of the Poinsettias (a video reading of the text).

  5. Get hands on! Check out these fun and easy craft ideas, including painting poinsettias, creating poinsettia ornaments, and a piñata coloring page.

  6. Since no celebration is complete without food, watch this video to learn more about some of the traditional foods that are prepared and served during Las Posadas, and check out this recipe for buñuelos.


Have some ideas of your own? We’d love to hear other ways your Catholic schools celebrate Las Posadas in the comments below.

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

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.

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