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Solidarity Through Sandwiches

on Friday, 17 July 2015.



Enjoying a PB&J for lunch? Learn how a group of fifth-graders in Tucson put Catholic Social Teaching into practice by...

Posted by University of Notre Dame on Friday, July 17, 2015

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.”


Arizona Scholarships Empower Parents to Choose the Best Education for Their Children

Written by Eric Prister on Friday, 29 May 2015.

img 6971When Aleta Atonda first learned about Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) Program, her daughter Roseanna was attending a failing public school in Tucson that was on the verge of closing its doors. Aleta had for years wanted to send her daughter to the local Catholic school, St. John the Evangelist, and ESA finally gave her that chance.

“We wouldn’t even have considered sending Roseanna to St. John the Evangelist without ESA,” Aleta, whose second-grade daughter attends one of the Notre Dame ACE Academies in Tucson, Arizona, said. “I’ve wanted to send her to St. John’s a few times in the past, but didn’t think it was possible. When I found out about ESA, I jumped at the opportunity.”

ESA strives to provide education choice for some of Arizona’s most underserved communities—those with learning disabilities, those attending ‘D’ or ‘F’ schools, and recently, those living on Indian Reservations. For Roseanna, a new school has meant a drastic shift in her academics, and her overall outlook on school.

“Roseanna has flourished at St. John’s thanks to the support of her family and especially her mom,” Roseanna’s second-grade teacher Stephanie House said. “Her family’s commitment to her success and the strong culture at St. John’s has enabled her to go from below grade level to on or above grade level. Most of all, I hear from Roseanna and her family that she is happy and able to live out her faith as part of the St. John’s community.”

The mission of the Notre Dame ACE Academies says it strives to place children on the path to “college and heaven,” and those at St. John’s said Roseanna is on her way down that path.

“Roseanna has demonstrated academic growth and an enthusiasm to learn,” development director Dene Hummon said. Hummon helped the Atondas through the ESA application process. “She will be a first generation college student.”

Aleta agreed that her daughter has embraced her new school and community.

“Roseanna’s attitude is different. She loves coming to school and is enthusiastic to attend. She is doing outstanding compared to last year, and she is demonstrating learning at home.”

The Empowerment Scholarship Account Program is giving parents the ability to choose the education they believe is right for their children, and for the Atondas, St. John the Evangelist is providing that education. When asked about her favorite part of school, Roseanna’s answer could not have been clearer.


Parental Choice Symposium Raises Awareness Outside of the Classroom

on Wednesday, 15 April 2015.

howard fuller pg. 23Dr. Howard Fuller, a leading champion for school choice, has participated in a number of Parental Choice Symposia. 

Kelsey Klupchak may not spend her days in the classroom anymore, but she still deeply believes in the mission of Catholic schools and parents’ right to direct their children’s education. The ACE 15 graduate of the ACE Teaching Fellows program taught chemistry at Bourgade Catholic High School in Phoenix, Arizona, where she was first exposed to the issue of school choice; many of her students received tuition assistance through the state’s tax credit scholarship program. Although Klupchak has since left the classroom, she said wanted to remain active in education, and ACE’s Parental Choice Symposium provided the perfect launch point.

The Parental Choice Symposium (PCS) is an intensive formation program designed to develop high-quality leaders for the parental choice movement, with a particular focus on strengthening state-based institutions engaged in grassroots mobilization, advocacy, and improving school quality. Sponsored by ACE's Program for Educational Access, it is the only event of its kind in the country. The PCS annually selects 30-35 talented and dedicated candidates for participation, including ACE graduates, leadership of state and national choice ventures, and other aspiring policy leaders.

Klupchak, who admitted she did not have extensive background knowledge about parental choice prior to the symposium, applied to participate in the PCS to learn more about a grassroots-turned-national movement from some of the preeminent thinkers in the field, and she was not disappointed. She praised the conference for giving her a foundation from which she could learn more about the issue on her own.

“Going in, I had almost no understanding of what this could mean for our children and for Catholic schools,” she said. “The presentations, discussion, and knowledge of the other participants really helped set the stage for me to get involved.”

Since returning to Chicago, Klupchak has taken a leadership role within her local ACE Advocates community and has actively worked toward increasing awareness about parental choice initiatives through presentations after Masses and at social events.

“We’re just trying to get the word out, attend school choice rallies and meetings, learn as much as we can, and hopefully position ourselves to help as the movement gains steam in Chicago and Illinois,” she said.

Klupchak wholeheartedly endorsed the PCS for anyone considering applying to participate.

"It’s an excellent introduction to parental choice, and it was great exposure to its leaders and forefront thinkers," she said. "It was a whirlwind of information, people and places, and it helped stir the passion within to then send me forth to learn more and support parental choice in my own community.”

This year’s Parental Choice Symposium is scheduled for June 19-23 in New Orleans and Tampa, and there is no cost to participants. Those interested in applying or looking for more information about the PCS should contact Eric Prister at .

Peanut Butter and Jelly to Share: School Children Give Their Lunches to Those in Need

Written by Rachel Hamilton on Monday, 23 March 2015.

mc4 7428Sitting on a dusty street corner just off of Interstate 10 in Tucson, Ariz., is Santa Cruz Catholic School, where students have taken to heart Jesus’ command to love thy neighbor—neighbors who, for them, are often homeless.

According to the 2013 Homelessness in Arizona Annual Report, “the density of Pima County’s homeless population remains the highest in the state and higher than the national average,” with one of every 131 people having experienced homelessness. Many of these people live in South Tucson.

Fifth grade and ACE Teacher Rose Raderstorf said she spends the first few weeks of the school year at Santa Cruz discussing Catholic Social Teaching with her ten- and eleven-year-old students.

“My kids had never heard of it, but they quickly latched on to the ideas of respecting human dignity, preferential option for the poor, and solidarity,” Raderstorf said.

The class worked to make these teachings relevant to their own lives. Raderstorf patiently listened as the children worked to find ways that they could truly show love for the poor, even as young people, even with limited resources. One student suggested making sandwiches for the people living in Santa Rita Park a few blocks down the street.

 “He said, ‘we should make sandwiches for the people living in the homeless park. Then we should take it to them and eat with them so they have someone to talk to,’” Raderstorf said.

Santa Cruz is one of the Notre Dame ACE Academies in Tucson, a network of partner-schools with the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education that aim to provide a Catholic education of the highest quality to as many children as possible in under-served communities. Many Santa Cruz students benefit from the school’s free and reduced lunch program, yet they worked together and made sacrifices to supply the materials needed to make the sandwiches.

"The first time we made sandwiches as a class, a few parents, students and I took them to the homeless park across the street after school,” Raderstorf said. “We had so many left over that a parent suggested we take the extras to Casa Maria.”

Casa Maria is a Catholic Worker Community which runs a soup kitchen and distributes over 500 lunches and 100 bags of groceries each day. In addition to providing nourishment, the Casa Maria community offers other services and ministries to the homeless community in South Tucson.

“While we were there, the director of Casa Maria told our class that they had run out of food that day and were not going to be able to give lunches to the 500-600 people that would be there the next afternoon. He told the kids that they were a God-send, and truly helping make miracles happen.”

Inspired by their own ability to do good in the world, Raderstorf’s fifth grade students now take sandwiches to Casa Maria each month. More than just feeding their neighbors, the fifth grade students are experiencing fellowship with those people so often overlooked or ignored by others.

“The last time we made sandwiches, we went to Mass with the Casa Maria community,” Raderstorf said. “We sat on over-turned milk crates, right next to the people who would later be eating our sandwiches for lunch.”

After Mass, one student wrote, “the best part of today was going to Mass with the people who were going to eat our sandwiches. They just smiled so big when they saw all the sandwiches. It was so cool that we did this, it gave me that butterfly feeling in my stomach.”

In many schools, service becomes something out-of-the-ordinary: a field trip, a focused event during Catholic Schools Week, or a graduation requirement. For Raderstorf's fifth grade class, service is becoming a routine and a source of joy. They now hope to share that experience with others and are bringing more classes from Santa Cruz along to share the Eucharist and share their service with the homeless population of South Tucson.

In addition to material resources and academic programs, Notre Dame encourages each Notre Dame ACE Academy to develop a strong set of root beliefs and core values at the heart of each school's mission, which, for Santa Cruz, includes: "We are called to love because God loves us;" "We are called to be a family—sean una familia;" and "We are called to live the gospel." One signs that adorns the hallways and classrooms of Santa Cruz and the other Notre Dame ACE Academies reads: “Love God. Love others. That’s it!”

Raderstorf’s class shows that even those who have little to give can be incredible forces of good in the community and can show love and companionship to those so often abandoned or criticized. Their work is not complicated by motives or incentives. Instead, they are simply loving God by loving others.

“The church has it right,” Raderstorf said. “We all need a little child-like faith.”