By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — “We don’t just accept diversity — we celebrate it,” said Jeanne Von Feldt, principal of All Saints Catholic School, which reports 64 percent diversity in its student body. That’s the highest for Catholic schools in the Diocese of Davenport, which reports 20 percent diversity, and even in the public school system in Iowa, which reports 23 percent diversity. (See accompanying chart)
Von Feldt notes that diversity at All Saints encompasses religion, gender, race and economic backgrounds. All Saints’ Hispanic population, for example, represents 33 percent of its student body. That compares with 11 percent in the diocese’s Catholic schools and 11 percent in Iowa’s public schools. Word of mouth about All Saints is the reason for its extraordinary diversity, Von Feldt believes. “Our parents and staff are our best ambassadors.”
Three years ago, she was chosen to participate in the Latino Enrollment Institute along with just one other Iowa Catholic school principal. She felt that what she learned could also be applied to the growing Vietnamese population at All Saints.
Students benefit from the school’s diversity, learning about different cultures, traditions and foods, for example. Various projects during the school year also help students to better understand differences and similarities between each other, Von Feldt said.
Before the mergers of Sacred Heart Cathedral, Holy Family and St. Alphonsus schools to form All Saints, the cathedral school had a high population of Hispanic and African-American students. After the merger and with the addition of St. Mary Parish into the school system, more Hispanic families have joined All Saints. “We love it,” Von Feldt said. St. Anthony Parish in Davenport also supports All Saints.
Of the 441 students in grades PK-8, 147 are Hispanic, six are Native American, 50 are Asian, 86 are African-American and three identify with two or more races. With that diversity comes some language challenges. Von Feldt said she has many volunteers to help communicate with parents who are not conversant in English. “I try my best to speak a little Spanish that I know.” But staff and parents help translate paperwork, forms, newsletters or serve as translators during in-person meetings.
Deb Goslin, an All Saints English language learner teacher (ELL), works with more than 40 students to improve their English. “There are many students at All Saints that speak two languages,” she said. “I see myself as a resource for the staff and I see them as a resource for me. We all have the same goals for the students. There is collaboration among staff and parents as we all work together to increase student learning. I come from a background of teaching that puts emphasis on the ‘whole’ child. It is great to see that at All Saints they care about academics but also about the social and emotional well being of the students.”
Goslin said she recently discussed with a parent the advantages of having a child attend a school with a diverse population. “We agreed that children get a chance to hear different points of view, learn about cultural traditions first-hand and have respect and concern for others of different backgrounds. With the changing population of our country and the world, it gives students the advantage of working with a diverse population just as in the ‘real’ world that they will be living in.”
Eighth-graders Rylee Bedford, Serena Pham and Evan Gluba, along with seventh-grader Julio Rosas, shared their thoughts about All Saints’ diversity.
“We all get along,” Rylee said. “I have learned about where some students have come from. I don’t notice a difference in their skin unless someone points it out.”
“You learn so much about where people have come from,” Serena said. “There are students who were born in other countries or different states. Some have come here from public schools,” added Serena, who also speaks Vietnamese.
Julio, who transferred to All Saints, said he felt comfortable telling students about his life and family from Mexico. At home he speaks Spanish.
Evan’s mom, from Guyana in South America, moved to England and then to Canada before settling in the United States. His mom knows English because Guyana is an English-speaking country and her moves have been to countries where English is spoken.
A favorite diversity event for many All Saints students is the cultural fair held every three years for middle school students. Von Feldt said students research their backgrounds and decide on a country to study. They learn about life styles, culture and other information. Then students make a presentation in class and set up a booth in the school’s gym.
“We are working to better understand that we are different but the same and we should treat each other with respect,” Von Feldt said.