ELSMERE — All Saints Catholic School serves five parishes, with a student population that is very diverse in many ways: economically, socially and culturally among them. That diversity is reflected also in the school’s Latino population.
Last year, 17 percent of the students were Latino, a number that is rising this year, said the principal, Mary Elizabeth Muir. To better serve those children and their families, she attended the Latino Enrollment Institute at Notre Dame University this summer with All Saints’ advancement director, Chantal Scott, and Father Glenn Evers, director of the Office for Cultural Ministries for the diocese and associate pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption in Hockessin, one of All Saints’ sponsoring parishes.
Despite the seminar’s title, enrollment was just part of the four-day conference, which was part of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education.
“They study the demographics of the population and the future of the church,” Muir said. “Their goal is to promote and support the future of Catholic education. This is truly a niche that we’re going to serve.”
Scott said one of the goals of the institute was to “utilize our Latino families that we already have in our community and figure a way to leverage them in their own community to spread the word about All Saints.”
The Latino community manned a food booth at Corpus Christi’s recent carnival, and the school hosted a potluck dinner and reception on July 26 in an attempt to welcome those families and learn how they can better serve those students. The reception afforded Muir an opportunity to use one of the things she learned at Notre Dame. She wrote up an invitation, had a parent translate it into Spanish for her, then sent it from her own email address because she wanted the invitation to come from her, not through someone else.
At the institute, it was suggested that these kinds of messages and invitations be written in the same font size and style as the English. The responses came in quickly, although she had to use an online translation program for those in Spanish.
“The bottom line is it’s being able to share heart to heart,” she said.
The Latino Enrollment Institute includes follow-ups in the form of monthly “modules” that will be completed online, and also “zoom sessions” with other schools. All Saints has been partnered with schools from Ohio and Virginia; they will work with a mentor who has been through the program and has seen increased enrollment. But, as Muir noted, “it’s not simply an enrollment program. How can we look at it in terms of the total enrichment of our school?”
The first module, she noted, addresses the faculty and staff and what they can do to meet the diverse needs of their student population. They need to identify the gifts available to the school community and how All Saints can build upon that to strengthen the school’s faith and academics.
“We talk to the children regularly about everybody has gifts and talents and blessings to share. Nobody is better than anybody else,” Muir said.
Fortunately for All Saints, they have parents who are willing to help. Muir relates the story of one mother who offered her services but always apologizes for her less-than-perfect English.
“Every single time she says that to me, I say, ‘Your English is way better than my Spanish. You deserve so much more credit. I haven’t placed myself in a culture where I don’t know the language. And I’m trying to do the best for my children. You have done that,’” she said.
The school’s new librarian will also teach Spanish, and Muir expects that will be a welcoming sign to Latino volunteers who want to learn English but feel more comfortable being around someone who can understand their native tongue. Getting those folks more involved will also help the students learn conversational Spanish, which Muir said is the “identified gap” in Spanish education.
“I might even learn some Spanish,” the principal said.
The benefits of more integration could extend beyond the classroom. All Saints wants to dispel the belief held by some that every Spanish-speaking family in the country has an immigration issue.
“That’s not true at all,” Muir said. “And yet, our families need to know if they have a problem they don’t need to be afraid to come and share with us. We’re here to support them. They give to our community, and we want them to be able to continue to be able to do that.”