Latino enrollment grows for third year

Numbers tell part of the story of growing Latino enrollment in archdiocesan schools.

All-girls Mercy High School, for example, has 20 more Latina students than last year’s 31; Creighton Preparatory School, an all-boys high school, is up 17 Latino students from last year’s 44; and V.J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School is up 15, for a total in that school of 35 Hispanic students.

Those numbers at high schools in Omaha are among net gains in Latino enrollment across the archdiocese that brought the total number of Hispanic students to 1,719 this year, up 177 students – or 11 percent – over last year’s 1,542.

The net gains are on top of a 158-student increase in Latino students last year, and a net increase of 267 the year before. Latinos now make up 8.6 percent of the archdiocese’s total enrollment of 19,861, which also has grown over the last three years.

"We’re real happy to see those numbers move up as well," said Michael Ashton, superintendent of Catholic schools, of the increase in Latino students.

Twenty-six of 39 Omaha-area elementary and high schools saw gains in Hispanic students. That includes a net gain of 28 at St. Thomas More, nine at Mary Our Queen, Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Pius X/St. Leo, and eight at St. Vincent de Paul (all in Omaha) and St. Patrick in Elkhorn.

But it’s about more than numbers. It’s also about reaching out to all members of the community, offering the faith, academics and other benefits of Catholic schools. It’s about archdiocesan officials, principals, teachers and students talking with people, face to face, at schools, community events and other venues, Ashton said.

"Word of mouth is the strongest, most compelling indicator for enrollment," he said.

Just talk to Francisca Jimenez and her son, Daniel, an eighth-grader at St. Thomas More School in Omaha.

They were among more than a dozen people attending an Oct. 26 open house at Our Lady of Lourdes showcasing Catholic high schools and geared especially toward parents and students who speak Spanish.

Organized by Beatriz Arellanes, the archdiocesan coordinator of Latino enrollment, the evening event was one of numerous open houses organized each year for Hispanics to learn more about Catholic schools.

The Jimenez family appreciated the extra effort, Francisca told the Catholic Voice, with translation help from her son. It was a good service to families, she said.

Having Daniel attend a Catholic high school is important to her and her husband, David, members of Assumption-Guadalupe Parish in Omaha, she said. Opportunities to grow in the faith and be challenged academically are high on their list for their youngest son, she said.

"We were born that way," she said of their insistence on a faith-centered education.

The hope of finding a high school strong in faith and academics for her daughter, Karla, brought Francisca Ceballos, of St. Peter Parish in Omaha, to the same meeting.

"I want to learn more about keeping my daughter in Catholic school," Ceballos said of Karla, an eighth-grader at All Saints School in Omaha.

Open houses are one part of the archdiocese’s reaching out to the Latino community.

Among other things, students and teachers at Catholic schools march each year in the Sept. 16 parade in south Omaha celebrating Mexico’s Day of Independence; there is a "madrinas" program of Latino volunteers serving as liaisons between Latino families and schools; and Arellanes visits with many families in elementary and high schools.

She also attends community events and visits parishes, and her office at Catholic Charities’ Juan Diego Center provides many opportunities for families to drop in and see her, Ashton said.

Arellanes said it’s rewarding work.

"I hear students from high schools, elementary schools, and realize the time and effort, everything is worth it," she said. "Their lives are changed, the future is changed and the community is changed."

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