The Gifts We Didn't Know We Were Missing
The Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI), as implied by the very name of the program, began as an enrollment-based initiative. As Catholic schools around the country were seeing their numbers diminish – and in many unfortunate cases even close – reaching out to the Latino population was a perfect way to sustain enrollment in Catholic schools while serving a segment of the population that had been largely underserved in traditional public schools.
For the most part, the reality of the Catholic schools that have attended the LEI over the years has been one of enrollment crisis. Many Catholic schools affected by the economic downturn and changing demographics were struggling to remain viable, and the LEI has been an opportunity to alter their course – or at least their way of doing certain things – and to reach out to an untapped population springing up around them.
But while many of the schools that have attended the LEI over the years have done so out of necessity, Andra Zommers, principal of St. Augustine Cathedral School in Kalamazoo, Michigan, came to the LEI from a different reality. In her reflection below, Andra provides a beautiful testimonial that illustrates how the Latino Enrollment Institute is about more than just increasing school enrollments.
In the winter of 2016, my enrollment director, Sarah, and I received information about the Latino Enrollment Institute at the University of Notre Dame. From all that we read, the Institute looked interesting and worthwhile. St. Augustine Cathedral School is located in downtown Kalamazoo in southwest Michigan and belongs to the Diocese of Kalamazoo, a mission diocese with a growing population of Latino families.
Sarah and I were accepted to LEI and made our way to the University of Notre Dame in June 2016. We have been blessed with stable enrollment over the last eight years, growing steadily from 268 to 342 students (PK-8) since 2009. We always have room for more students, and LEI seemed a great opportunity to learn more about a population that is underrepresented in our school.
The days at the LEI were rich with new and exciting information and heartwarming stories from practitioners. But I also wasn’t entirely sure of my reason for being there. Many of the schools represented were experiencing enrollment crises, and many of the presenters who shared their success stories focused on saving their schools by making themselves accessible and inviting to the Latino population in their area.
I thought, perhaps, my seat at this conference should be taken by a school that actually was in crisis with respect to enrollment. Fr. Joe Corpora suggested, however, that we all just watch to see God’s plan in this. So we made the best of our time there, absorbed all of the information shared by the presenters, and enjoyed the camaraderie with other Catholic school leaders from around the country.
Upon returning to our school, we began to set in motion our Latino outreach plan. We started by reaching out to a nearby parish that serves a large Hispanic population. We attended a Spanish Mass and had the joy of speaking with families after the Mass. That same week, three of our enrolled families unexpectedly moved away, leaving our enrollment down for the first time in years. And then God revealed His plan. Seven new Latino families registered to join our school families, which allowed us to maintain our numbers for the 2016-17 school year.
The real blessing, however, came in the following months when it became apparent that these ten new students were gifts to our community that we did not know we were missing. The children are open to God’s love. Their parents are joyful and grateful and we are working together to educate their children. The teachers have learned many lessons as we work to serve this new group of families. We are taking advantage of opportunities to infuse the rich Latino culture into our Catholic school experience, and we simply enjoy one another and what each person brings to the St. Augustine community.
Fr. Joe was right, God certainly did have a plan for us. We feel so abundantly blessed that His plan was for us to welcome these new children into our school family!