Catholic Schools and dual language

Adopting dual-language programs is one way parish schools adapt for Latino students, the new Catholic majority
By Tara García Mathewson

IMG_3258 (2) (667x1000)All Saints Catholic School in Richmond, Virginia, nearly closed after the economy crashed. It lost more than half of its enrollment in a two-year period and went on to operate with a deficit for three years in a row while its student population hovered at about 105, at less than half its capacity.

Bishop Francis DiLorenzo, seeing how many school-aged Latinos lived within the borders of the Richmond diocese and how many empty seats schools like All Saints had, spearheaded the launch of the Segura Initiative in 2010. The program removes much of the financial barrier to Catholic school enrollment for Latino students from very low-income Catholic families and has expanded their numbers in 27 of 29 diocesan schools.

Ken Soistman, president of All Saints school, was one of the first principals in the diocese to accept Segura students. And since then he has watched school enrollment steadily creep upward. During the 2013-14, All Saints had 114 students. Last year enrollment jumped to 167, this year it is 188, and next year, Soistman expects 205 students, about 25 percent of whom will be Latino.

“We’re back operating in the black — with a bare-bones budget, but we’re also paying back some of our deficit,” Soistman said.

Many Catholic schools, elementary and secondary, all over the country have not had such a happy ending. According to the National Catholic Educational Association, in the decade between academic years 2004-2005 and 2014-2015, the number of Catholic school students declined by almost half a million. Nearly 1,700 schools closed or consolidated.

While there was a time when more than half of Catholic children went to Catholic schools, that is far from true today. And within the largest and fastest-growing Catholic school-aged population — Latinos — barely 3 percent are enrolled in such schools.

Many administrators long ignored this population in recruitment efforts or repurposed old strategies, changing only the target demographic. Others, though, like All Saints, have shaped their school cultures around the new students, celebrating new holidays, embracing language differences, and welcoming new staff members and volunteers who are Latino and speak Spanish.

Still other schools have gone yet one step further. They have shifted the way they deliver education to turn the Spanish that some of their students arrive speaking into an asset, rather than a deficit to teach away.

Click here to read the full story in Global Sisters Report, a project of the National Catholic Reporter.