Advertisements ad ad ad ad ad ad ad ad

January 25 - February 7, 2015

Latino enrollment in schools is up but still has a way to go

By Michelle Martin

Staff Writer

Latino enrollment is growing in Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago, but it still has a ways to go.

That’s the message from Juana Graber, director of the University of Notre Dame’s Catholic School Advantage program in Chicago.

Catholic schools in the archdiocese have seen Latino enrollment growth for four consecutive years, since the Catholic School Advantage program began in 2011. The program encourages Latino families to educate their children in Catholic schools, with the double aim of closing the achievement gap between Latino and non-Latino children and revitalizing Catholic schools that have been beset by declining enrollment.

In the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Latino student population now represents 21.5 percent of the more than 82,000 students enrolled across more than 200 elementary and high schools in Cook and Lake Counties, up from 18.5 percent Latino enrollment in 2010. There has been a 12 percent jump in Latino enrollment since 2011.

“The work of the last four years represents steady progress in ensuring that more Latino children and their families receive access to a Catholic education,” Graber said.

Graber pointed to Sacred Heart School in Melrose Park as one success story. The school’s enrollment had held steady for about five years, but was too low to be sustainable long-term. Graber began working with the school two years ago, and since then Sacred Heart has seen a 22 percent increase in enrollment and a 35 percent increase in Latino enrollment.

Barbara Ciconte, the school’s principal, said the most effective thing the school has done is hire one of its own parents as a bilingual marketing coordinator to reach out to Latino families.

“They hear her story, and they think if she can do it, then maybe they can,” Ciconte said. “It’s the personal story, saying your child is important and you can do this. Many of them just thought Catholic school was beyond their means.”

The school works with families to try to make tuition fit their budget, with significant discounts for siblings, a tuition assistance program and participation in the archdiocesan Caritas scholarship program.

The influx of students and families brought a new energy to the school. Ciconte said.

“It’s just opening everything up,” she said. “We’re embracing it.”

Sacred Heart School also has started a Parent Ambassadors program, created bilingual print materials, made school representatives present at Spanish Masses at both Sacred Heart Parish and other local parishes without schools, recruited families from religious education classes, placed advertisements in local Spanish newspapers and participated in local community events, Graber said.

Parent Ambassadors help recruit new parents and children to Catholic schools and ease their transition once they are enrolled. The personal touch is vital in the Latino community, Graber said.

“The day-to-day commitment to relationship-building at all levels throughout the local community remains essential to creating informed advocates for Catholic schools,” she said. “It is the key lever to increasing the number of Latino children receiving the great gift of a Catholic education in their communities.”

According to Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education, Catholic schools are uniquely able to serve Latino students well. Latinos who attend Catholic schools are 42 percent more likely to graduate from high school and Latinos who attend Catholic schools are 2 1/2 times more likely to graduate from college.

To make Catholic education a reality for more Latino students, Graber said, “as far as more work to be done, we need to ensure that we are meeting the needs of all of our families. We need to broaden the awareness of Catholic schools and ensure access for all. We hope to expand the initiative to more schools, secure more funding to provide access to scholarships, and broaden our Spanish-language marketing.”