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Madrinas Serve as Bridge for Latino Families: Boost Enrollment at Corpus Christi - Holy Rosary School

Written by Steve McClure on Thursday, 17 October 2013.

CCHR MadrinasAbout 30 miles north of Midtown Manhattan in the working-class village of Port Chester, New York, Corpus Christi-Holy Rosary School has a long history of educating the children of immigrant families. Like many other U.S. cities that were at one time destinations for European immigrants during the 19th and early 20th centuries, Port Chester finds itself undergoing a dramatic transformation due to a recent wave of immigrants from Latin America. Today, 59 percent of the town's residents are of Hispanic origin, contributing to a population increase of 17 percent in the past 20 years - twice as fast as Westchester County as a whole. This immigrant influx, described by Port Chester's director of planning and development, Christopher Gomez, as the "lifeblood" of the town, has brought new life to a city that fell on hard times in recent decades. For the principal of Corpus Christi-Holy Rosary, Sister Lou Ann Fantauzza, a Salesian Sister, this has been especially true as she has seen consecutive years of enrollment increases and a school culture that has been further enriched by the presence of the school's Hispanic students and their families.

Rooted in the Salesian tradition of St. John Bosco, Corpus Christi-Holy Rosary School has provided academic and spiritual formation to the children of immigrant families for over 65 years in an environment of faith, optimism, and family spirit. Similar to many other communities throughout the country, however, shifting demographics have presented entirely new cultural realities that have come with their own set of opportunities and challenges. One of the biggest and most prevalent of these challenges is the inefficacy of traditional recruitment and marketing strategies within the rapidly growing Latino population. Corpus Christi Holy Rosary School has responded to this challenge with faith, tenacity, and creativity, embracing the town's Latino community through the efforts of the school's madrinas. 

 The Notre Dame Task Force that studied the participation of Latino children and families in Catholic schools found that schools that extend personal, one-on-one invitations to Latino families have more success than those that extend blanket invitations. This statement is evidenced clearly in CCHR's recent enrollment success through the Madrinas initiative. Corpus Christi-Holy Rosary is one of 28 CSA partner schools in the Archdiocese of New York receiving need-based scholarships for newly enrolled Latino students who have been referred to the school by a madrina. These madrinas, literally meaning "godmothers," serve an indispensable role in connecting the school to Latinos in the surrounding community, informing families about the benefits and accessibility of a Catholic education, as well as mentoring new families through their transition to Catholic schooling.

This past school year 22 new families enrolled at CCHR through the madrinas program, which Sr. Lou Ann says "would not have been possible without the exceptional group of women who have volunteered their time in service to the school." Judi DeSouter, the school's Director of Development and Student Recruitment further notes that such an exceptional team does not come together without clear vision and intentionality when selecting the madrinas. "Sr. Lou Ann has identified outstanding parents who are proactive, creative thinkers, and have gone out into the community and really hit the ground running," says Ms. DeSouter, "They truly are part of the internal workings of the school and have a sense of ownership. They devise new ideas because they are in the community, amongst the parents, and constantly identify new and changing opportunities."

The madrinas, Silvia Sical, Milena Carvalho and Nadeya DeDiago work to thoughtfully craft plans and efforts that meet the needs and expectations of Latino families. "It's such a productive collaboration," says Ms. DeSouter. "Our madrinas are incredibly personable, can make meaningful conversation easily, and they have generated so much interest in our school.

CCHR StudentAmong the madrinas at CCHR, there is one in particular whose dedication and hard work have established her as an outstanding leader. "The three madrinas work incredibly well together and take the job very seriously. And Nadeya is definitely the trailblazer within our group. She is a class act – a true treasure who inspires and coaches others," says Sr. Lou Ann. On many a Sunday, Ms. DeSouter meets with Mrs. DeDiago to discuss any news on the recruitment front and any opportunities or challenges the team is facing. Ms. DeSouter noted, "When I first saw Nadeya interact with prospective families, I thought she had a background in sales because she is so successful in connecting with parents. I don't think I have ever seen a parent walk away saying, "no thanks." Because of the strength of the CCHR madrinas, the school had a waiting list of 35 kids for enrollment this year.

Although Sr. Lou Ann and Ms. DeSouter are blessed with an outstanding group of madrinas, the support of the archdiocese and its partnership with ACE's Catholic School Advantage campaign have been instrumental in the success of this program as well. Thanks to generous donor support and the fundraising efforts of Dr. Timothy McNiff, Superintendent of Schools in the Archdiocese of New York, Madrinas scholarships were available to over 400 new students throughout the archdiocese this past year. In addition, Rudy Vargas IV, CSA field consultant in New York, has been working on the ground with schools throughout the archdiocese to help establish Madrinas programs. Ms. DeSouter notes that "without Rudy's leadership, guidance, training, and continued partnership, this effort would not be nearly as successful as it is now." Although little training and professional development has been needed for the madrinas at CCHR, Rudy has always been available to help resolve issues, aid in initial training, get others involved, and give counsel to develop culturally appropriate messaging for advertisements and marketing materials.

In addition to adopting more culturally responsive recruiting techniques, CCHR School has created an environment in which students of all cultures can feel at home, with special emphasis these days on embracing the various cultures of the school's Latino population. Sr. Lou Ann notes, "Our community has a deep appreciation for and understanding of the immigrant reality. We're open to the suggestions of our madrinas that everything be a family event." Ms. DeSouter goes on to say, "as a Salesian school, we aim to be home, school, church, and playground. It's a very faith and joy-filled setting in which the opportunities to include the children's culture and include their families are many." Whether it be the Hispanic religious iconography in the hallways, celebrations honoring saints revered in the Latino community, or welcoming children who may not speak English proficiently just yet, Corpus Christi-Holy Rosary has embraced Port Chester's changing demographics and been tremendously successful. Through the tireless efforts of the school's leadership, the dedication of their madrinas, and the committed families who contribute to and entrust their children's formation to the school, Corpus Christi-Holy Rosary has truly become a beacon of hope to families in the village of Port Chester.

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