With a growing Hispanic population in the Diocese of Allentown, diocesan schools and parishes are finding ways to attract and sustain Hispanic enrollment. In order to share their experiences in this area with their peers, four representatives of the Diocese presented “Sustaining Hispanic Enrollment” at the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) Conference in Dallas, Texas.
Sister Anna Musi, IHM (Principal of St. Peter School in Reading), Monsignor Tom Orsulak (Pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Parish), Sister Margaret Pavluchuk, IHM (Director of Religious Education of St. Peter the Apostle Parish), and Melanie Leal (current teacher, graduate of St. Peter School), presented at the April 12 conference.
“We thought it might be the right time for us to share some of our best practices that we have acquired in sustaining our Hispanic enrollment,” said Sister Anna. “The focus of our presentation was It Takes a Village, which is why we presented as a team: pastor, principal, DRE, and teacher who was a graduate of the school.
About 30 people attended the presentation at NCEA.
When asked what has worked best in reaching out to Hispanic families, Sister Anna said, “Our Hispanic families respond best to personal contact or a phone call. At each Mass, our priests ask if there’s anyone new joining us for the first time. This outreach is very effective. Our priests also do in-person registration to be able to get to know the new families. Our DRE assesses each new family in school and their sacramental needs by having a conversation with them.”
St. Peter’s School also “invites each family to come to school to pick up registration packets in person and talk to a school representative and tour the school.” According to Sister Anna, the personal invitation puts families at ease, as does communicating with them in their preferred language.
A video of parent interviews was shown during the presentation. One parent said that St. Peter’s chose them: “Sister Anna, in Mass at St. Peter’s Church, actually approached me and she said she would love to have my girls in her school.” Another parent testified to the welcoming atmosphere: “I feel like part of the school community because everything’s personalized. When I come in, everyone knows who I am and who my kids are. I love that about St. Peter’s School.”
The presenters shared that students’ families are involved in the life of the parish and participate in culturally specific devotions such as Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Altagracia, Our Lady of Las Nubes, and Our Lady of Divine Providence.
Parents who have not completed the sacramental process often enroll in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) once their children begin attending the school. “When their children come to school, they reach out to us [for the sacraments of initiation.] At times we reach out to them!” said Sister Anna.
When asked what she recommends to other parishes and schools interested in increasing engagement and enrollment among Hispanic families, Sister Anna said, “Keep inviting and accompanying each family through the enrollment process, and continue outreach and availability even after they entered the school. Continue accompanying families each year to apply for financial aid. Building relationships with families is key, and relationships and connections with families can be built regardless of Spanish language proficiency.”