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CURRENT ISSUE:  March 7, 2011
VOL. 49, NO. 5   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Operation Rice Bowl becomes a staple of Lent
Lenten sacrifice: Time to give up plastic bags or incandescent bulbs?
Big push to enroll more Latino students

New initiatives are aimed at increasing enrollment of Latino children in Catholic schools. When St. Bernard School was closed in February 2010, most of its students moved to St. Jarlath School.
josé luis aguirre photo

The Diocese of Oakland and the University of Notre Dame are entering a partnership to increase the participation of Latino students and families in Catholic schools.

How the Catholic School Advantage program will work

By Michele Jurich
Staff Writer

Holy Cross Father Joseph Corpora talked about how the Catholic School Advantage program will work in an interview with The Catholic Voice.

How will the Catholic School Advantage work with the Diocese of Oakland?

We will hire a consultant for a two-year period who will work with these principals to see if they are implementing the interventions we suggested would work to increase enrollment. We’ll have a lot of baseline date about how many kids are in the schools. The consultant will not work for all the schools; that’s too many. He will work with the principals, coaching them. People today (at the conference Feb. 16 and 17) had a good time. . . . They’re going to get home and get busy with the normal stuff. The role of the field consultant will be to work with them, check in with them.

Is that person associated with your program?

We’ll hire the person. He’ll have an office in the Diocese of Oakland and work with Sister Barbara and her staff but work for Notre Dame. We have a whole system of things we want them to do and how to get to know the principals and then work with them.

So Notre Dame is becoming part of the Diocese of Oakland?

This is a real partnership. I will be out regularly and check on how things are going, and work closely with the consultant. We see this as a two-year partnership. We hope that in two years we will have moved the needle and maybe we’ll build a school. Or other schools will want to get in on this.

To get up to 700,000 to 800,000 kids (nationally), we have to fill in 300,000. We have to open up 212 closed schools, and build 250 new schools. Those new schools — most of the schools will be built in Texas and Arizona — where there aren’t schools. If we can get a whole nation mobilized on this, ideas change the world. We just have to work with ideas.

Which schools have been chosen?

Each school had the chance to sign up for the mentor program. This is the first diocese where everyone has come. Sister Barbara really has a vision, even if a school is full of all white kids, that won’t always be the case.

What about the Alliance for Catholic Education teachers?

We have ACE teachers in 33 dioceses. We’ve been in Los Angeles for 10 years and last year we opened our first ACE house in Sacramento.
Does there need to be a house for teachers?

In Dallas, they live in apartments. The biggest requirement is there be a chaplain assigned to the house who checks in with them on a regular basis, who celebrates Mass with them, and has access to the superintendent or her office on a regular basis.

What about the high schools?

We’re not losing high schools. In this day and age, we’re losing grade schools. We need to put more thought into our grade schools. People are getting to the point to not wanting their kids to go to public high school when there is a Catholic high school.

What about funding?

I believe a foundation is underwriting this event, which means all the research, my pay for this work, my hotel, the field consultant for a year. Foundations are getting a little bit tired of just giving money for tuition. They want to see a plan: How is this going to be sustainable? Nationwide, foundations are look for a plan that can turn around the schools.
Nationally, Notre Dame’s The Catholic School Advantage: The Campaign to Improve Educational Opportunities for Latino Children seeks to double the percentage of Latino children enrolled in Catholic schools — from 3 percent to 6 percent — in the next 10 years, raising the number of Latino children enrolled in Catholic schools from 290,000 to 1 million by 2020.

Tips for schools

Among the suggestions Father Joseph Corpora offered school leaders to make their schools more attractive to Latino families:

School office: A bilingual person at the reception desk provides that first welcome.

Madrinas: Enlist bilingual women with close ties to the school to be “godmothers” to families who enquire about the school.

Follow-up: Inquiries about the school should be followed up the same day with a phone call.

Reduce paperwork: Make an effort to reduce the amount of information asked of an applicant.

Voicemail: Options in both English and Spanish are critical.

Pastor’s role: A welcome from the pastor is meaningful.

Our Lady of Guadalupe: Include culturally sensitive images in schools.

Crucifix: A cross in every classroom is not as meaningful as a crucifix.

Leadership: Make sure the culture of the school is reflected in the school board.

Sign: “Bienvendios a la escuela” (Welcome to the school) is a good sign.

Mass: A reading in Spanish at school Mass gives some kids a chance to shine. Students can sing “Padre Nuestro” (Our Father).

Celebrate: Feast Days are important times to celebrate.

Principal’s letter: Communication from school in both languages is critical. Pay attention to translation.

Visit: Visit homes of students to find out what’s important to them.

Use your building: Sponsor professional development to help English-language learners.

Do you have a soccer field? Use it.

Religious education: Recruit students from the parish religious education classes.
In the Diocese of Oakland, the number of Latino students comprise 4.5 percent of the school population in elementary schools; 6 percent in high schools in this school year.

About 20 schools in the diocese will receive additional coaching from a field consultant who will be hired by the university to work with the schools. The consultant will visit schools to see where they need help, but will not do the actual recruiting of new students and families.

Workshops offered to all schools

All schools will be offered the benefit of workshops, such as the two-day conference last month at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga at which Father Joseph Corpora presented an overview of Notre Dame’s Latinos in schools initiative.

The partnership with Notre Dame will also bring the university’s Alliance for Catholic Education to the diocese for the first time beginning this fall, said Superintendent Sister Barbara Bray. A group of four to six of these ACE teachers is expected to begin work in classrooms this fall.

ACE is a two-year service program offering college graduates the opportunity to serve as full-time teachers in Catholic schools that have few resources — money or staff members. Teachers spend two summers studying in the master of education program at Notre Dame and two school years teaching in Catholic schools across the country.

While teaching, participants live in small communities of four to seven members.

ACE teachers will serve in the areas of high poverty, particularly in inner-city schools An ACE representative has already visited some schools in the diocese. The plan is to place one ACE teacher in a high school and the rest in the K-8 schools, Sister Bray said.

ACE teachers typically work with students from third grade through high school.

A call to think creatively

At the gathering in Moraga, Father Corpora called on school leaders to think creatively, both in enrolling more Latino families and in maintaining the fiscal health of their schools.

“The principal must be the financial leader of the school,” he told the group, which included principals, pastors, administrators, teachers and school board members.

Noting that in 2009, Catholic school tuition covered 53 percent of what it cost to educate a child, he said, “We’re already at a loss before we start.”

The Holy Cross father, who has experience as a pastor at parishes with schools in Oregon and Arizona, suggested re-examing charging what it costs to educate the child and family discounts.

He also urged the gathering to drop the notion of fundraising — say goodbye to chocolate bar and gift wrap sales — and concentrate instead on development.

He encouraged them to reach out to “hosts and hosts of alumni,” taking the opportunity to “bring people into the school. People want to go back and see their elementary school.”

They should not overlook local business, he said, which has a vested interest in keeping the neighborhood Catholic school not only open but vibrant.

He reminded the gathering that the original strategic subsidy was the vowed women and men who did not get paid. He recalled he went to school and paid for milk and books.

“Schools are still being subsidized by the nuns who taught there 50 years ago,” he said.

“Buildings are gifts that were provided by blue-collar workers who gave them to the Church.”

Four principles drive Father Corpora’s work today. “If we’re successful at this initiative,” he said, “and this initiative will last the rest of our lifetime, we will have given a Catholic education to hundreds of thousands of kids who wouldn’t have had one; we will provide leaders for the next generation; our schools are going to stay open; and our parishes will remain vibrant.”

“That, I think, is worth giving over our lives to.”

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