Educational partnership helps Utah Catholic schools better reach Hispanic families

Friday, Mar. 18, 2016
Educational partnership helps Utah Catholic schools better reach Hispanic families + Enlarge
Patrick Jefferies, St. Andrew Catholic School principal, reads to kindergarten students as part of his first- hand involvement in the school.
By Laura Vallejo
Intermountain Catholic

RIVERTON   — An invitation from the University of Notre Dame has led to an educational partnership with two Utah Catholic schools that is helping them reach out to the Latino community.
Saint Andrew School in Riverton and Saint Joseph Elementary School in Ogden are participating in a program through Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education that “is designed to help Catholic school principals, along with members of their faculty and staff, to find creative new ways to make their schools more attractive, effective, and accessible, particularly within the Latino community,” according to the university’s website.
In 2014, when Patrick Jefferies became principal at St. Andrew School, he found that enrollment had dropped by more than 35 percent over the previous months. 
“Any time that you are going to raise enrollment, reaching out and developing new relationships and trust is incredibly important,” said Jefferies, who with his staff started working to improve the school’s environment. “I took some time listening. Even though my Spanish is very limited, I was willing to listen and to talk to everyone and show them that we really care about their concerns. 
“When somebody walks through the door and feels welcome, they make the comment to their friends, and that was something that we started carrying over and over,” Jefferies continued, adding that Catholic education should be driven by a mission rather than the bottom line. ”We [as a Catholic school] are supposed to serve our Catholic community and those that want to follow Catholic education regardless of their socioeconomic or religious status.”
The school is now at 205 students, up from  147; the average class size is 19 and the largest class has 26 students. With this 37 percent increase, Latino enrollment grew nearly 50 percent.
“The response that we have got from the community has been humbling,” said Jefferies.
Last year, Notre Dame University’s Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) offered a four-day conference for school principals, administrators, and teachers that offered tips to help them attract and serve Latino families more effectively. 
One of the recommended practices  was to place religious imagery specific to Latino cultures in a highly visible location at the school so that when prospective families visit, they immediately see something with which they can identify. 
Every classroom at St. Andrew School now has a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and they are working to make all their paperwork bilingual English/Spanish. They also added celebrations such as the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe to their festivities.
The school celebrated the feast for the first time in December; among those who attended was Sister Julie Kubasak, DC, the LEI mentor principal who has been working with St. Andrew School.
“A huge image of Our Lady was prominently displayed at the Mass, and we were each given roses to offer her, while students dressed as traditional matachines danced and served as lectors,” Sr. Julie wrote in an letter published by the University of Notre Dame. “It was an absolutely beautiful celebration!”
The St. Andrew school staff is multicultural, which offers “not just someone that speaks Spanish, but people that can understand the diversity,” Jefferies said. “The community needed to feel a sense of ownership in the school, to know that they belong here, and that we are committed to doing whatever it takes to make it possible for them to be here.” 
Support from Father Marco Tulio Lopez, pastor of Saint Andrew Parish, has been fundamental in the efforts, Jefferies said. “The connection that the school has with the parish couldn’t be any stronger, and Fr. Marco is always advocating for the school.”  
Jeffries said that he is amazed to see how a small school in Utah, where Catholics comprise just 6 percent of the population, “can suddenly have access to a wealth of resources and be part of a nationwide network of schools and educators who share this common mission.”

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