New diocesan initiative aims to increase Hispanic student enrollment

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"Like a mosaic made of tiles in beautiful colors…" is the Spanish-language pamphlet tagline that introduces readers to ¡Venga!, the Arlington Diocese's new initiative to increase Hispanic student enrollment in diocesan schools from McLean to Winchester.

Of the 17,234 students enrolled in diocesan schools, about 10 percent identify themselves as Hispanic. That percentage does not match the trending growth in Northern Virginia's Hispanic communities or Catholic parishes.

From 2000 to 2010, Fairfax County's Hispanic population increased from 106,958 to 168,482. During the same period, the city of Fredericksburg's Hispanic population grew from 945 to 2,607.

According to CARA, a Catholic research center at Georgetown University in Washington, 34 percent of U.S. adult Catholics are Hispanic, compared to 58 percent non-Hispanic whites, making the Hispanic population the second-biggest Catholic demographic in the country.

One of the difficulties in recruiting Hispanic students is the lack of a diocesan-wide English Language Learning program or translation and interpretation services for newly immigrated parents.

According to the Virginia Department of Education, per the No Child Left Behind Act, under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act "local educational agencies (LEAs) are required to provide services for eligible private school students as well as eligible public school students."

While Catholic school students are included in this measure, the lack of such language services in diocesan schools makes them dependent upon the public schools for relevant resources, including teachers certified in teaching English as a Second or Other Language.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Non-Public Education co-presented with the Diocese of Arlington at the National Catholic Educational Association's annual conference in Orlando the session sought to to open a dialogue about how public and Catholic schools can share resources, including, but not limited to, language resources. "Let's Collaborate" presenters included Pamela Allen of the U.S. Department of Education and Diane Elliott, special services coordinator in the Arlington Diocese's Office of Schools.

"We shared how the Virginia Department of Education works with private schools for programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act," said Elliot. "Services for students whose first language is not English is one of those programs."

Another barrier to increasing Hispanic enrollment in Catholic schools is culture, said Renée Quiros-White, diocesan director of enrollment management, who explained that translating promotional materials and enrollment paperwork is not sufficient for generating Hispanic interest in Catholic schools. While the Office of Catholic Schools has sought translation support from the diocesan Hispanic Apostolate, Quiros-White hopes to adopt some of the cultural measures taken by the Diocese of Richmond.

Annette Parsons, Richmond's chief educational administrator, who started the Hispanic enrollment initiative, Segura, in 2009, said that a talk at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana helped her realize that creating Spanish flyers and documents were not enough.

After consulting Richmond Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo, Parsons established a madrina, or godmother, system, where schools could hire a bilingual Hispanic mother to assist other Hispanic parents five to 10 hours a week. Familiar with the language and the commonalities among Latin American cultures, the madrina helps organize lunches and performances that allow Hispanic families to share their food, songs and dances with the greater school community.

When Segura started, Richmond had two Hispanic students in its diocesan schools. Today, that number has grown to 300.

"Food and music are great equalizers," said Quiros-White, who added that while Arlington is not collaborating with Richmond on its Hispanic enrollment initiative, "we are inspired by the success of Segura."

Financial limitations also may prevent more Hispanic parents from enrolling their children in Catholic schools.

Currently, $2.8 million is made available through the Diocesan Tuition Assistance Program, and $91,220 is made available through the Diocesan Scholarship Foundation. Also, $11,824 in special tuition assistance is made available for single parents with multiple children in Catholic schools. With ¡Venga!, more funds may be made available for Hispanic families who complete the necessary paperwork.

¡Venga! is part of the office's five-year strategic plan, which aims for, among other things, outreach and diversity.

In the plan's summary brochure, Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde states:

"We have received the gift of baptism and share in the responsibility to fulfill Christ's final command to 'go out and teach' (cf Mt. 28:19). Our schools are a vital part of this evangelization among educators, students, parents and our wider communities."

In an official statement, Sister Bernadette McManigal, superintendent for diocesan schools, wrote:

"Opening our school doors to more Hispanic students is an opportunity for evangelization. It is also an opportunity to show our appreciation of the many cultures that comprise our world and to learn from these cultures. Welcoming students reminds us of the expansiveness and welcoming attitude of our God. I look forward to this new initiative on the part of our Catholic schools, new in the sense of a more deliberative outreach to these neighbors."

According to the current timeline, the office seeks to noticeably increase Hispanic student enrollment in time for the 2016 school year, said Quiros-White.

Find out more

To learn more and for a full listing of diocesan schools, go to arlingtondiocese.org/catholicschools.

Stoddard can be reached at cstoddard@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015