Notre Dame program helps school reach out to Latinos

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Natalia Grodecki and her sister made a presentation on Costa Rica during a multicultural day last school year at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School in Davenport.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School is experiencing success in reaching out to the growing number of Latino families in Scott County through the school’s participation in the Latino Enrollment Institute at the University of Notre Dame.

Principal Julie Delaney and Vice Principal Octavia Houtekier-Boyd attended their second annual conference at the Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) earlier this summer to learn more and to build on the school’s success. The University of Notre Dame’s Catholic School Advantage program founded LEI in 2012 in response to national data suggesting Latinos are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. Catholic Church and the most underserved by Catholic schools, according to LEI’s website. The institute identifies and assists Catholic schools with “substantial unmet capacity (open seats), favorable demographic potential … and motivated principals by offering a framework to transform schools in order to attract and serve Latino families.”

This year’s conference gave the educators additional components to focus on marketing Catholic education to Latino families, Houtekier-Boyd said. A monthly mentoring session will continue for another year as part of the program, Delaney said. She pointed out that U.S. Census Bureau population reports show growth in the Hispanic and Latino population. In addition, Bishop Thomas Zinkula’s Vision 20/20 initiative “called us to move forward and fill every heart and life with the joy of the Gospel through a fresh encounter with Jesus Christ and his Church.” Catholic schools are called to serve the Latino population, a natural extension that St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School and parish support, Delaney said.

Last school year, Delaney met virtually with mentor Jocelyn Smith, a previous program participant. Mentors and administrators “share their experiences, support and ideas,” Houtekier-Boyd said. Participating schools receive materials monthly and administrators share with their mentors the challenges and successes they have encountered, Delaney said. “Our mentoring group had six members from around the country. We not only learn from our mentor, but each other as we share what we are doing in our schools. The mentoring provides a vehicle to learn from those who have been successful already,” she said. St. Paul will have a new mentor and mentoring group this year. Mentor Haidee Todora is a Catholic school principal in Highland Park, Illinois.

During the 2021-22 school year, St. Paul the Apostle implemented translation of paperwork and registration forms in Spanish, expanded its Spanish library selection and added Hispanic Heritage Month activities. This year’s goals include website review, marketing tips and noting cultural differences, Houtekier-Boyd said.

“We will be much more focused on marketing to Latino families,” Delaney said. The school also will work to improve communication with Latino families “on how we can meet their needs.”

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Latino enrollment has grown for the 2022-23 school year, with many more inquiries to follow up on, the administrators say. “The Latino Enrollment Institute has not only made us more aware of the Latino culture that already is in our school, but has also helped us to recognize the many different cultures represented at St. Paul’s,” Delaney said. “We want to ensure every family feels their culture is valued and nurtured at our school.”


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