By Anne Marie Amacher
DAVENPORT — All Saints Catholic School underwent a state accreditation process last month and received praise from accrediting representatives for its handling of diversity.
“The diversity of All Saints is impressive. To see the children from different cultures and backgrounds united with such strong camaraderie gives me reason to pause and reason to hope,” said Holly Barnes, school improvement consultant with the Iowa Department of Education. “We adults have so much to learn from children, and I sense the children at All Saints are ready to help us learn about their rich diversity.”
Principal Jeanne Von Feldt said that All Saints strives to follow the heart of Christ’s message to love one another. Students “receive an excellent education that is grounded in Catholic faith and in a safe and enriching environment.”
Currently, 400 students from preschool through eighth grade attend All Saints; 240 are white, 70 are Hispanic, 59 are Asian, 24 are African-American, four belong to two or more races and three are American Indian/Native American.
The Asian population, typically Vietnamese, has been steady for many years. Hispanic enrollment grew from 30 students last year to 70 this year. Von Feldt attributes part of the increase to working more closely with St. Mary Parish in Davenport.
All Saints students come from Davenport, Bettendorf, Blue Grass and Muscatine in Iowa and Rock Island, Milan, Coal Valley, Viola and East Moline in Illinois.
The principal, who is in her second year at All Saints, also noted that 46 percent of students receive free or reduced lunches. Eighty-nine percent are Catholic and 11 percent are non-Catholic.
“What strikes me is the staff recognizing the gifts that all the children have culturally, economically, racially. It is amazing,” said Patricia Rolfstad, All Saints Catholic School Board president.
“The kids are so accepting of each other. They do not see differences,” said the mother of three All Saints students. She noted that students come from different parishes, neighborhoods and walks of life. At an early age they learn the issues of tolerance. “They are living out their faith. The students are recognized and their fellow classmates show respect to them. They see God in each other.”
Meecheeca McNeal, counselor at All Saints, said students’ willingness to embracing the different cultures impresses her. She loves it when students bring in food from their cultures and other students are receptive to trying it. Students also ask fellow classmates how to say certain words or phrases in the various languages represented at the school. “My daughter in kindergarten is being exposed to a cultural palette that will enrich her life,” McNeal added.
Because of diverse cultures at All Saints, the school is entitled to services through the Davenport Community School District, Von Feldt said. Some services are due to students needing help with the English language and other due to low income status of families.
Deb Waterman of the Davenport Community School District comes to All Saints on Wednesdays to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) to some of its students. “This high academic environment with its ‘old school’ traditions completely charms me. I love being here to see the hard work, high expectations and smiling faces.”
Forty-one students qualify for ESL according to state mandates, Waterman said.
“Teachers here truly care for the students. Tutoring, small-group instruction, strategies to facilitate learning, one-on-one instruction, a strong curriculum and good teaching really supports high academic success. Teachers really care about their students regardless of culture or race and model this attitude toward students daily,” Waterman said.
One challenge for the school is a language barrier with some families. The Davenport school district helps with translators and All Saints also is working with parishes for translation assistance as needed, Von Feldt said.
This is especially important at parent-teacher conference times.
On occasion, the school has to depend on a child to convey information to the parent in the family’s native language.
This year’s eighth-grade class is the first to complete kindergarten through eighth grade at the consolidated All Saints Catholic School. Four students from some of the parishes represented at All Saints shared their feelings on diversity at the school:
Matthew Pham, a member of Holy Family Parish in Davenport, believes that all students in the school get along with each other.
“There are a lot of people with different nationalities,” said Angela Dinh of Sacred Heart Cathedral. “We fit in with each other.”
Tom Schebler of Holy Family Parish said he thinks All Saints is the most diverse Catholic school around. He appreciates having students who represent many different cultures because it gives everyone an opportunity to learn about others.
Lorena Nava of St. Mary Parish in Davenport transferred from public school to All Saints and said she felt welcomed as a new student. “I am happy that my mom made the decision to send me here. They teach us well and show us the right path. There is much less drama here.”