A Small School Making Great Strides
When St. Mary’s School in Niles, Michigan, applied to attend the Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) in 2016, the school’s low enrollment raised initial concerns about its long-term viability. A small pre-K-6 Catholic grade school with a total of 56 students enrolled suggested an uncertain future, but Principal Sharon Gregorski was determined to see her school grow and its students thrive.
When Sharon learned of the Latino Enrollment Institute, she knew that it was exactly what her school needed to succeed. St. Mary’s Parish offered a Spanish Mass every Sunday, as well as a faith formation program that was well attended by Latino students in grades kindergarten through six, but most of her attempts to invite Latino parents to consider a St. Mary’s education for their children had been unfruitful. Conversations with Latino parents, which often ended with a sincere interest and expressed desire to send their children to the school, rarely translated into actual enrollments.
Sharon hoped that by attending the LEI, she would acquire a deeper understanding of Latino culture, as well as the tools necessary to reach out to this growing population in her community. Now, as a member of the sixth cohort of the LEI and just halfway through the school year, Sharon is already seeing the fruits of her labor.
St. Mary’s School offers a beautiful example of how a passionate and mission-driven school leader is far more critical to a school’s success than any circumstances or obstacles they may face. Following is a reflection from Principal Sharon Gregorski on her experience in the Latino Enrollment Institute thus far.
In the summer of 2017, I attended the June session of the LEI at the University of Notre Dame. Little did I know or realize just how much my life would be changed beginning on that Sunday night in June! The atmosphere of the conference was so welcoming and inviting, but beyond that was the tangible passion evidenced by the LEI team for this ministry.
For the three and a half days, we were presented not only with information on how to recruit and serve Latino children, but also with the assistance needed to begin the LEI ministry in our own schools. LEI team leaders spoke of their experiences, usually with an accompanying video, and these experiences would make us laugh, cry, and instill in our hearts and souls the desire to be just as successful.
Paramount to the program’s success is a “guide on the side” (an LEI coach and an action plan) to help us begin and continue our mission back home. Relevant printed materials, as well as group sessions, gave those attending the desire to make this quest attainable. The monthly Zoom calls with our coaches and the readings provided continue to support, inspire, and keep that “flame” alive.
With an understanding pastor, a wonderful madrina, the t-shirt that states “Yo amo escuelas católicas” worn at our Spanish Mass, the Holy Spirit, and many smiles, St. Mary’s has truly witnessed a miracle. My little school has enrolled 11 new Latino students this year, bringing our total from 3 Latino children to 14, which is 23-percent of the entire school population.
The Latino parents are grateful beyond words for this opportunity for their children, and their children are so happy! I have to laugh because I took four years of Latin in high school, and my Spanish is in the very beginning stages. My new Latino parents are patient with me as I navigate the language, and I know that I am loved.
I pray that with God’s mercy and Our Lady’s help, the miracle continues. It is my fervent prayer that the Latino population continues to increase here at St. Mary’s School. We are so blessed for this gift!
If you’re interested in learning how your Catholic school can recruit and better serve Latino children and families, click here to find out more about the Latino Enrollment Institute. Applications for the 2018 summer conference are now open.