By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — With a substantial increase in the number of Latino students at All Saints Catholic School, Principal Jeanne Von Feldt continues to learn how to reach out to that community and other communities of diversity.
Von Feldt and one other Iowa Catholic school principal were chosen to attend a four-day program offered at Notre Dame University earlier this summer. “I had to apply for one of the openings and was competing with principals from all over the United States,” Von Feldt said.
Although the Latino Enrollment Institute at Notre Dame focused on the Latino population, Von Feldt said she can apply what she learned to the growing Vietnamese population at the school as well.
Throughout the program, she attended lectures and presentations led by school leaders with demonstrated success for developing Latino outreach programs, she said.
Father Joe Corpora, CSC, gave an overview of the Latino culture and the many gifts that community brings to the church, schools and nation. Fr. Corpora is director of the University-School Partnerships at Notre Dame and works on the Catholic School Advantage Campaign. “He says he is a sinner whose sins are forgiven. And he loves anything made with tomato sauce,” Von Feldt laughed.
Fr. Corpora pointed out that in the U.S., 57 out of 100 persons ages birth to 10 years old is Latino. Fifty-three out of 100 children ages 10-20 are Latino. He told the administrators that Latinos have a love for the church, family, the word of God and convey a “real sense of community in the Latino culture.”
During another session, Von Feldt heard that a culturally responsive school should have a hospitable front office, forms available in Spanish, a private area where parents can fill out paperwork with a translator, school tours conducted in Spanish, and translated report cards. All Saints already is working on those areas. Forms will be available in Spanish and Vietnamese. Parents and other volunteer translators will be available to assist with paperwork translation and tours.
The institute inspired Von Feldt to have an action plan in place. The school has hired an English-as-a-second-language teacher. Von Feldt has spoken to parishioners at St. Mary Parish during the Spanish Mass with Father Guillermo Trevino translating her message.
The school has an interpreter for parent-teacher conferences. Assumption High School in Davenport big brothers and sisters program will help with this effort. A representative from St. Mary Parish serves on the All Saints Catholic School Board.
Fr. Trevino will begin incorporating some Spanish into all the school Masses that he celebrates so that all students become familiar with the language. “He will teach the students phrases and explain it to them,” she said. Teachers and staff will have professional development about the gifts that culturally and linguistically diverse children bring to the school. Some information on the school website will be translated into Spanish. Registration forms will be available in Spanish and Vietnamese. Von Feldt will attend a variety of community events, particularly at St. Mary’s. The school will educate Latino and Vietnamese families about the advantages of a Catholic education and help them to know that All Saints is available, affordable and accessible. Finally, the school will help families fill out paperwork for tuition assistance through a translator.
“At All Saints we all try to nurture a school culture that values knowledge, excellence, persistence, love and service,” Von Feldt said. “But at the same time, we also prepare for an intimate daily engagement with the nuts and bolts of school life, ensuring that Gospel values permeate every aspect of the school community – spiritually, instructionally and in the day-to-day management of the school.” Von Feldt admits All Saints is not a perfect school and there are challenges. “But we are proud of what we are doing and continue to grow.”
Patty Lansink, principal at St. Rose of Lima School in Denison, Iowa, and assistant superintendent of the Diocese of Sioux City, is Von Feldt’s mentor. “Patty will be visiting All Saints in October to go over our action plan.”
Enrollment at All Saints totaled 477 students earlier this month with two more students who were expected to start last week. Of the total enrollment, 139 students are Latino. “Just three years ago we had 25 Latino students. Look at where we have gone,” Van Feldt said. Many grade levels are at or near capacity with some waiting lists. “God put me here for a reason,” she added.
Although she does not know a lot of Spanish, Von Feldt said she tries to learn a few words and phrases to be able to talk at parishes and with families. “But a smile is universal in any language.”