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Latino Families Finding a Home in Cincinnati Catholic Schools

Written by Eric Prister on Thursday, 22 October 2015.

img 88961 copy copyWhen Mayra Wilson, graduate of ACE's ENL program, accepted a part-time position with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to help improve Latino outreach and enrollment for the Archdiocese’s more than 100 Catholic schools, she knew she had her work cut out for her. The Archdiocese’s outreach up to that point had been minimal, and she would be starting nearly from scratch. But she kept one thing on her mind as she began her efforts.

“Our families want a Catholic school, our families want to be close to their faith, and they want the best for their kids.”

Wilson started with families and with individual schools in an attempt to bring together parents who wanted a Catholic education for the children but didn’t know how to access it with schools who wanted to reach out to the local community but didn’t know how to get started.

“There was clearly a need for [outreach],” she said. “Many schools in the urban settings were wanting to reach out to this community, but they didn’t know how to. In particular, the biggest challenge they saw was the language barrier.”

Born and raised in Peru, Wilson felt a connection to the Latino communities of Cincinnati and felt as though she was positioned well to be a liaison between Latino families and schools. Though she had become known in the Latino communities through her work throughout college, she felt like she needed to reposition herself in this new role.

“I would go to different masses in Spanish, I would go to different events in the community—I was trying to be really present,” she said. “Now, [I’m] the Catholic school lady, everyone knows me as that. I wasn’t afraid of going out and meeting with families after Mass, I wasn’t afraid of eating the tamales and sharing food, and just building that trust for families.”

In Wilson’s four years working with the Archdiocese, Latino enrollment is up more than 50 percent, and this year, they’ve hired another Latino Outreach Coordinator who will focus on the northern portion of the Archdiocese. Wilson spoke this summer at Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education as part of Vámanos, a workshop for recruiters of Latinos to Catholic schools hosted by the Catholic School Advantage Campaign.

Wilson said that parents and schools alike are excited and ready to start making the effort, they just need guidance on how to start.

“We wanted to make sure our parents understood all the nuances of the school, but also wanted to make sure the school staff and the principals understood where our families were,” Wilson said. “We wanted to make sure they understood how our families communicated, how our programs needed to be friendly, how some stuff needed to be bilingual. We needed to appreciate the culture, appreciate the language, and rather than see it as a barrier, see it as an opportunity and explore how to make the best of these opportunities.”

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