School Latino enrollment grows; outreach efforts continue
Beatriz Arellanes, coordinator of Latino School Enrollment for the archdiocese, started her job just over a year ago by meeting people and talking to them about the benefits of Catholic education after all-Spanish Masses in south Omaha.
Then she began appearing on Spanish radio and in Spanish newspapers, touting the welcoming, faith-filled Catholic schools in the area.
And when the 2015-2016 school year started, she spent a good deal of time helping Latino families enroll their children in the school of their choice.
"I started – what we say in Spanish – ‘making noise,’" Arellanes said.
Those efforts, plus work by people such as Ss. Peter and Paul School administrative assistant Estella Rangel and principal Cory Sepich in Omaha, helped increase Latino enrollment across the archdiocese’s 70 elementary and high schools by 268 students (includes preschool), from 1,107 students in 2014-2015 to 1,375 students in 2015-2016, said Patrick Slattery, superintendent of schools.
Most of the increase was in elementary schools in the Omaha area, with a net gain of 224 students.
Rural areas saw a net gain of 44 Latino students, with significant gains in South Sioux City, where St. Michael School is serving 138 Latino students, up 21 from last year, and in Columbus, where St. Bonaventure went from 22 to 33 Latino students, and Scotus Central Catholic Junior/Senior High School increased from one to 15 Latino students.
Arellanes also is encouraging outreach efforts in rural schools, recently visiting St. Leonard School in Madison and Norfolk Catholic schools in Norfolk. She plans to visit schools in Columbus in early April.
Success in Omaha includes Ss. Peter and Paul School, which brought in 59 more Latino students this year compared with last year, increasing from 140 to 199, Slattery said. All Saints School added 34, increasing to 65 Latino students, and Our Lady of Lourdes added 33 to total 84 Latino students.
"We’ve worked closely with Beatriz Arellanes," said William Kelly, principal of Our Lady of Lourdes.
For example, Arellanes arranged for Creighton University students in Omaha to help the elementary school with translation and make telephone calls in Spanish to remind families of upcoming events and deadlines, Kelly said.
A welcoming school environment also helps, with staff members who know Spanish able to answer questions and meet other needs, Kelly said.
Maintenance worker Eric Moreno is part of the welcoming atmosphere at Our Lady of Lourdes. Moreno speaks Spanish and in addition to fixing what’s broken at the school touts its teachers and its educational benefits to Spanish speaking parents, Kelly said. He has a child in eighth grade and two of his children graduated from the school, Kelly said.
Rangel is making a difference at Ss. Peter and Paul School, where she welcomes people, answers their questions and does whatever work the principal needs done.
"I think the clue is to be humble, be kind, and help people feel welcome," she said.
Rangel also is widely known in the Latino community, hired three years ago at Ss. Peter and Paul when Assumption-Guadalupe School closed in Omaha, where Rangel had worked for 17 years.
"I ask people, how do they know about Ss. Peter and Paul besides the (Spanish) radio?" Rangel said. Many reply that they were encouraged by people in the community to see her about Catholic schools, she said.
Sepich, who speaks Spanish but not fluently, relies on Rangel for translation.
"She is warm, friendly and reassuring," Sepich said.
And at the archdiocesan level, Arellanes said many people contribute to the successful efforts to reach out to Latino families, and it is rewarding to help families find a Catholic education, assure them financial aid and other help is available, and watch them thrive.
"When I see kids happy in a faith environment … it is amazing," she said.
Omaha, unless noted
Ss. Peter and Paul, up 59, total 199 Latino students.
All Saints, up 34, total 65.
Our Lady of Lourdes, up 33, total 84.
Holy Cross, up 12, total 45.
St. Thomas More, up 19, total 55.
St. Bernadette, Bellevue, up nine, total 35.
St. Columbkille, Papillion, up 17, total 49.
St. Bonaventure, up 11, total 33 Latino students.
Columbus Scotus Junior/Senior High School, up 14, total 15.
South Sioux City
St. Michael, up 21, total 138.