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Above, students and parents from archdiocesan schools walk in a parade celebrating the independence of Mexico Sept. 17 in south Omaha.

Representatives in the archdiocese also had a booth at the parade. Beatriz Arellanes, right, talks with a woman and her two children about enrolling in Catholic schools.

Latino enrollment grows in archdiocese

Growing numbers of Latino families are choosing Catholic schools for their children.

This year, 1,532 Latino students are enrolled in the archdiocese’s 70 elementary and high schools, up 158 from last year’s 1,374, said Patrick Slattery, superintendent.

That is on top of growth seen the year before – from 2014-2015 to 2015-2016 – when net Latino enrollment increased by 267 students, Slattery said.

While elementary schools in the Omaha area accounted for most of last year’s gains with a net increase of more than 220 Latino students, and high schools saw few gains, this year’s increase includes elementary schools growing by 107 students and high schools by 51, according to figures reported by the schools each September.

Omaha-area high schools overall led the way in secondary school enrollment gains, with 53 more Latino students than last year. Those increases include Daniel J. Gross Catholic High School in Bellevue, which this year has 60 Latino students, compared with 44 last year. About 20 percent of this year’s freshman class are Latino.

Other Omaha high school increases include Creighton Preparatory School, with 44 Latino students this fall, compared with 33 last year, Roncalli Catholic High School with 15, up nine students, and Mercy High School’s 31, up eight students.

Enrollment gains among elementary schools this year are led by the five-school Omaha consortium, which total a net increase of 133 Latino students, including 39 more at Ss. Peter and Paul, 31 at St. Thomas More, 21 at Our Lady of Lourdes, five at Holy Cross, all in Omaha, and 37 more at St. Bernadette in Bellevue.

Slattery attributed many of the enrollment gains to the hard work and personal invitation to Latino families extended by Beatriz Arellanes, coordinator of Latino School Enrollment for the archdiocese. Since December, she has helped enroll 131 new Latino students, he said.

"I’m going to give a world of credit to Beatriz," Slattery said.

Through Arellanes, school principals and others, Latinos know the archdiocese wants them to benefit from the faith-based, academically challenging environment of a Catholic school, Slattery said.

That message includes informing people that, "you are a vibrant part of our parish life, we want you to be a vibrant part of our schools," Slattery said.

Dorothy Ostrowski, president of Gross Catholic, said she has seen Arellanes’ positive influence.

"She has been very instrumental in helping bring families to Gross Catholic, show them around and make them feel welcome," Ostrowski said.

Gross Catholic also works to make certain all students feel welcome, Ostrowski said. That includes recruitment materials in Spanish and teachers who speak Spanish readily available to help families as they visit and enroll, she said.

Arellanes said she worked hard last year encouraging eighth-graders to consider a Catholic high school. "As soon as I finished enrollment at elementary schools, I realized many of our kids in eighth grade were thinking of a public high school," she said.

Many families worried a Catholic high school would be too expensive, Arellanes said. But visiting the schools helped as parents realized the extent schools would work with families to ensure their children could enroll, she said.

"I shared with them that it is possible," Arellanes said.

Arellanes has been so busy she couldn’t keep up with the telephone calls to her office. But as of this month she has help – the archdiocese hired Sarah Starman as administrative assistant for Latino School Enrollment.

A 2014 graduate of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., and a native of Petersburg, Starman most recently worked at Catholic Charities as an immigration program assistant.

"We are so happy," Arellanes said of Starman’s arrival in her office.

OUTREACH TO LATINOS

Recent developments

Hiring an administrative assistant for Latino School Enrollment.

Developing an all-Spanish version - espanol.lovemyschool.com - of the archdiocese’s website for schools, lovemyschool.com.

Offering courses in basic Spanish for Catholic school teachers, staff and administrators.

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