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Father Joseph Corpora speaks April 12 to Catholic educators, clergy, archdiocesan staff and business people in Omaha about how to make Catholic education "available, affordable and accessible" to Latino students.

Relationships key to Latino enrollment

Building relationships is key to increasing Latino enrollment in Catholic schools.

That was the message of Father Joseph Corpora, speaking April 12 to about 50 Catholic educators, clergy, archdiocesan staff and business people in Omaha about how to make Catholic education "available, affordable and accessible" to Latino students.

His talk was a follow-up to his visit in 2012, when he spoke about the financial challenges many Latino families face when considering Catholic education and the importance of relationships.

"Money is important, but it doesn’t all boil down to money," Father Corpora said. "Tax credits, vouchers, philanthropy and tuition assistance all can help, but it’s also what’s in our hearts."

Father Corpora, director of the Catholic School Advantage Campaign, an initiative of the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), suggested measures people can take to increase understanding and make Latino families feel welcome in parishes and schools.

Cultural awareness is needed to overcome biases, including getting to know Latino families personally so they are no longer considered "the other," he said.

And, Father Corpora stressed the importance of a welcoming atmosphere. This can be done through serving culturally familiar foods at meetings and events, displaying meaningful cultural artifacts such as images of our Lady of Guadalupe, and having printed materials written in English and Spanish, he said.

Since Father Corpora’s 2012 visit, archdiocesan schools have taken several steps to meet the needs of Latino families, including Spanish language courses for teachers and staff, the hiring of a Latino enrollment coordinator and a manager to establish a Latino Ministry Office.

Last year, several school and archdiocesan staff members attended a four-day training program at the Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI), a part of Father Corpora’s Catholic School Advantage program. Several more will attend this year.

Patrick Slattery, superintendent of Catholic Schools, pointed to results, such as an increase in Latino enrollment in archdiocesan Catholic schools from 5.8 percent last year to 7 percent this year, including a 28 percent increase, consisting primarily of Latino students, at Ss. Peter and Paul School in Omaha.

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