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Catholic School Advantage: A Letter from Los Angeles

Written by William Schmitt on Tuesday, 06 December 2011.

by Field Consultant Sylvia Armas-Abad

Sylvia Armas-Abad is ACE's Field Consultant for the Catholic School Advantage campaign in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. She sends this update on a success story she learned about while working with the people of Our Lady of Guadalupe-Rose Hill Catholic School in Los Angeles.

Our Lady of Guadalupe-Rose Hill Catholic School is located in the Northeast area of the City of Los Angeles. The Community of Rose Hills has a rich history, dating back to the time of the early native settlements of the Tongva Indians, who originally named this community Otsungna, which means "Place of Roses."

During the time of the Spanish missionaries, these lands were referred to as "Rancho Rosa de Castilla." The name still included a reference to the rose, because of the abundant roses growing on the hills and along the bank of the stream that was parallel to this area. In 1920, the Sisters of Social Services began teaching catechism classes in what is now the recreation center across the street from today's parish and school.

In 1924, the property was named "Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission," under Father Antonio Arias. The site continued to grow during the 1940's, and in 1953 the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe-Rose Hill was built, followed by the construction of the parish school in 1957. The Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary would administrate the school for many years to come.

After serving the Community of Rose Hills for the past 54 years, Our Lady of Guadalupe School has dedicated its efforts for the past year to re-establishing a strong connection between the school and parish and to provide a curriculum that will prepare the students to compete in a global market.

Serving a predominantly Latino population, Our Lady of Guadalupe-Rose Hill recognizes the importance of fostering the bi-cultural and bilingual journey that their students are experiencing in America. The school has also developed the following philosophy: "We, the faculty of Our Lady of Guadalupe School, believe that the parents are the primary educators of their children. We are dedicated to the Catholic formation of each student to be lifelong learners in the service of Christ and all His people. We challenge our students to be spiritually adept, academically superior, healthy and self-disciplined in a true Catholic environment."

In the summer of 2010, at a time of change and uncertainty in the parish, Victor Serna was appointed as principal of Our Lady of Guadalupe-Rose Hill. An ongoing decline in enrollment had taken its toll on the school's budget, and there seemed to be very little room for improvement. However, it was a matter of taking small, but very important, steps to create effective changes.

The first step was to establish a positive working relationship with the parish's new leadership. Father Nelson Trinidad, an Archdiocesan priest, was appointed as the new administrator of Our Lady of Guadalupe-Rose Hill parish. Both he and Mr. Serna began their work at OLG in July 2010. Working collaboratively has resulted in positive changes. In May of 2011, the parish and school held their first parish-school fiesta. The organizational work was shared among both parishioners and school families. It was a true depiction of individuals coming together to rebuild their community.

Furthermore, as a partner school in the Catholic School Advantage campaign, the University of Notre Dame's initiative to increase the number of Latino children enrolled in Catholic school throughout the United States, both Father Nelson and Mr. Serna had the opportunity to participate in the Pastors Institute and the Principals Academy, respectively, at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, in July 2011.

Victor Serna describes his experience at the Principals Academy as follows: "The Principals Academy, organized by the University of Notre Dame, opened my eyes to the type of forward thinking we can demonstrate regardless of the adversity we face. I have put the skills I gained at the Academy to good use, by implementing a vertical style of collaboration that allows teachers to examine the needs of our students of all grades. The experience was a God send for me! I was faced with declining enrollment and with limited resources. The practical ideas presented at the Academy helped me to reflect on how I can help guide my school towards excellence. I was also reminded that it is through the grace of God and through the cooperation of the community as a whole—parishioners, parents, students and staff—that we will overcome these trying times and truly impact the lives of our young children."

Over the course of the past year, Mr. Serna and Father Nelson have worked together on the Parish Finance Council, which aims to support the school in its strategic planning. Mr. Serna has also organized an alumni support base via Facebook, and he has identified a group of eight parents to serve in the Catholic School Advantage campaign's "Madrina/Padrino Mentorship Program." This marketing effort mobilizes parents to become parent ambassadors for their respective schools. The parents are trained to promote their school, recruit families, and mentor new families to ensure that they are adapting successfully to the Catholic school environment.

Our Lady of Guadalupe-Rose Hill saw an increase in their enrollment this year from 135 students to 151 students. Mr. Serna attributes meeting this goal to the monthly marketing publications that were distributed throughout the community over the past year. Furthermore, he recognizes the importance of his parents being the school's best marketers. However, many of his efforts have also been focused on improving the academic and extra-curricular programs at OLG-Rose Hill. Mr. Serna is constantly providing his faculty and staff with professional development and seeks to offer comprehensive and well-rounded extra-curricular activities for the students.

His school was recently chosen to participate in a qualitative study led by Catapult Learning. Next year, the school hopes to have a fully enrolled Kindergarten. With this goal in mind, the objective is to continue to foster the growth of Our Lady of Guadalupe-Rose Hill Catholic School by way of recruiting aggressively in the early grades, therefore ensuring a natural growth process.

On Monday, December 12, 2011, the parish and school will once again collaborate in what is perhaps the most important date to the Mexican Catholic community, El Dia de La Virgen de Guadalupe (The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe). On this day, the parishioners will participate in La Mañanitas to La Virgen at 5:00 a.m., followed by a Menudo breakfast in the parish hall. The students will participate in a special Mass at 9:00 a.m., where the fourth grade will provide a reenactment of the events that took place on the desert hill of El Tepeyac, near modern day Mexico City, from December 9, 1531, to December 12, 1531. During the Mass, the OLG students will also make an offering of "good deeds," written by each one of the students and every student will bring a rose to offer to our Blessed Mother. A reception will be held after Mass for all students and their participating families.

"I believe that Catholic schools reflect what our Virgen de Guadalupe would want for us—a safe, protected, learning environment, formed in our Catholic faith," said Principal Serna. "Furthermore, her apparition to a humble, indigenous peasant is a reminder that we are here to serve the ones who need us the most. The manner in which she manifested herself also reminds us that we must be relatable leaders. Cultural responsiveness is not just about language, it is about the sense of community and family that we need to evoke. We have to be nurturing, loving and inspirational."

Accompanying photo: Grandparents Day is celebrated at Our Lady of Guadalupe - Rose Hill School (this photo from the 2010 gathering of grandparents and grandchildren).

ACE's Catholic School Advantage campaign: Updates on Outreach

Written by William Schmitt on Tuesday, 06 December 2011.

A series of reports on change and hope for Latino students

Next week, the Catholic Church will celebrate the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is honored as Patroness of the Americas.

The Dec. 12 feast is a good opportunity for Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) to share our aspirations and activities in our work to welcome more Latino children into Catholic K-12 schools. ACE's Catholic School Advantage campaign includes collaborations with many partners across the United States, and we already have seen some stories that reflect the goals and hopes of this initiative.

The starting point for the endeavor was a report by the Notre Dame Task Force on the Participation of Latino Children and Families in Catholic Schools, issued on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 2009. That report, To Nurture the Soul of a Nation: Latino Families, Catholic Schools, and Educational Opportunity, warned of an academic achievement gap besetting the Latino population and the need to bring more Latino students into Catholic schools where they could gain access to an excellent education.

We will use this week, starting today, to help an array of stakeholders and friends of Catholic education--the extended community of ACE and the Institute for Educational Initiatives—to get to know the Catholic School Advantage campaign better. Over the next several days, the ACE website will present a series of stories that represent snapshots of the campaign's perspectives and people.

ACE's Mission in Ireland

on Wednesday, 30 November 2011.

Responding to a Need for Faith and Trust

Turmoil besetting the Catholic Church in Ireland has deepened the challenges facing the country's Catholic schools, and ACE has been working with leading Irish educators to respond to these challenges.

ACE, which has had various involvements in Ireland from the late 1990s, has increased its activity in Ireland since 2006 with a vibrant ACE Advocates community and the hosting of several conferences in Ireland and at Notre Dame for high level educational leaders from the primary and secondary sector.

ACE also recruits and selects two Irish teachers to participate in the ACE Teaching Fellows program each year. The upcoming 2012 visit by Notre Dame to Ireland provides ACE with an excellent opportunity to deepen our mission in Ireland.

The ACE Ireland mission, which has been set by Irish educators themselves, has three basic goals, says Rev. Sean McGraw, C.S.C., co-founder of ACE and a leader in ACE's work in Ireland.

"The goals are to develop future leaders for the schools, to support the faith life of teachers, and to build partnerships between educators in Ireland and the United States," says Father Sean.

Those goals address concerns about the Catholic identity embodied in Ireland's Catholic schools at a time when the Church there is reeling from a clergy sexual abuse scandal and rapid declines in regular church attendance.

December Retreat Helps ACErs Look Back and Look Forward

Written by William Schmitt on Tuesday, 29 November 2011.

One of ACE's longest traditions—and a rich source of memories for ACE teachers—will be convened for the eighteenth time in early December. Members of the ACE 17 and ACE 18 cohorts in ACE Teaching Fellows will gather at a retreat center outside Austin, Texas, for the annual ACE December Retreat.

About 170 teachers serving in 26 dioceses will mark the half-way point in the school year with experiences of prayer, personal reflection, community-building, and fun during the three-day weekend, starting Dec. 2.

They will be joined by numerous ACE faculty and staff members who support the teachers throughout the year. They will also be joined in spirit by ACE alumni for whom the retreat served as a milestone in their formation.

From the Field: Emily Lazor

on Friday, 25 November 2011.

"ACE is unique," says Emily Lazor of the STT community in Jackson, MS, "because it allows you to perform a much-needed civil service while also furthering the Church's mission of evangelism—a combination I found difficult to find in other long-term service programs."

This high school Spanish and Religion teacher has thrown herself into both service and mission this year—and speaks eloquently about what she has gained.

Being an ACE teacher is challenging, she says, but she deeply appreciates her students' excitement about learning Spanish and growing in their faith. "It is wonderful to see the world opened up to them, or to see their confidence grow as they can suddenly speak to you in another language," Emily says.

She continues, "Teaching in a school where prayer is not only accepted but also encouraged has taught me a lot about how acutely aware these students are of others' needs - both locally and around the world. They care deeply for one another, but also for people they have never met and will never meet, and I think a lot of that has to do with the formation they are receiving from a Catholic education."

While she's not been teaching long, Emily testifies to how she has grown from the experience—academically, professionally and spiritually. Much of the credit goes to her students, who have brought her deep joy both in and outside of the classroom. "I try my best each day to offer them something meaningful," she says, "but I am always humbled that more often than not they are teaching me about what is important, true, and beautiful about life. Being able to thank them and in turn affirm them for that is truly a gift."

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