Educators gain strategies on increasing Latino enrollment


SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Educators from three Catholic schools in the Diocese of Sioux City recently took time to learn more about bringing Catholic education to Latino families.

The Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) was held June 24-26 at the University of Notre Dame. Kate Connealy, principal at Sacred Heart School and Dr. John Flanery, director of advancement/enrollment/vocal music at Bishop Heelan High School, both attended from Sioux City. Linda Mitchell, principal at St. Edmond School, Mary Gibb, president at St. Edmond and Father Patrick Behm, St. Edmond chaplain, all attended from Fort Dodge.

Lisa Niebuhr and Lorie Nussbaum from Le Mars Gehlen Catholic School attended Adelante July 8-10 at the University of Notre Dame.

“I am so excited we had three of our schools attend these conferences focused on bringing the gift of Catholic education to the Latino families in our diocese,” said Patty Lansink, superintendent of Catholic schools. “Both conferences center on increasing Latino enrollment in our Catholic schools.”

She explained LEI is a four-day conference and participants come away with an action plan for moving forward. Principals meet monthly with mentors throughout the coming year and there is a follow-up gathering midyear to check on progress and share successes and challenges.

“Adelante is a shorter version of this conference, without the follow-up throughout the year,” said Lansink. “Participants still come away with a host of ideas for connecting with Latino families and bringing the gift of a Catholic education to them.”

Latino Enrollment Institute

Connealy, who is in her fifth year as principal, noted Sioux City Sacred Heart is 30 percent Hispanic with 120 students.

“Several other schools in the diocese attended the conference and highly recommended it,” she said. “Principals from around the U.S. shared their stories of growing their enrollment through engaging and recruiting Latino families. There was a mix of whole group sessions as well as small group breakout sessions.”

After attending the conference Connealy and Flanery came up with a list of more than 20 initiatives that can be implemented within the year.

“Some of those include creating marketing pieces targeting the Latino community, attending Spanish Mass and talking about the Bishop Heelan Catholic Schools, making sure our communication to families is in both languages and using bilingual signage to create a welcoming space,” said Connealy.

They would also like to start a group of Latino mothers who will serve as parent ambassadors called Madrinas and host cultural celebrations in their buildings.

Mitchell noted there are about 34 Latino students enrolled at St. Edmond School, but anticipate more in the future.

“We attended the conference to prepare for the economic changes to our five-county area,” she said. “There is a new plant coming in that may employ Latinos. We wanted to have things in place or be aware of things that could happen that we would need to have – forms in Spanish, have a translator available. We thought it would be better to be proactive than reactive.”

The conference, Mitchell said, explored the Latino culture – how to build relationships with new families and how to change many English documents to Spanish.

“They also stressed that Latino families are concerned about faith, discipline, hard work and to know that the school provides a loving and caring environment,” she said.

Much of the customer service aspects explained at the conference are used already at St. Edmond, Mitchell pointed out.

“The two days were very interesting and helped us to know that we need to promote Catholic schools at our Hispanic Mass and how important the priest is to make everything work,” said the principal. “They shared all the PowerPoints with us, just in case we didn’t take all the notes.”

St. Edmond will be assigned a mentor as the school starts implementing aspects at the school. The first Zoom meeting with the mentor will be in August and there will be other meetings throughout the year.


The two from Gehlen have decided to attend LEI next year, said Niebuhr, development director at Gehlen Catholic.

Lisa Niebuhr

Lisa Niebuhr

“LEI offered an ‘introductory’ three-day option this year titled Adelante,” she said. “We felt Adelante provided us the information, strategies and opportunities to enhance our current Latino Outreach efforts, better position our school and staff to be prepared and more successfully implement the information, strategies and opportunities of LEI in 2019 and beyond.”

According to Nussbaum, prek-6 principal at Gehlen Catholic, there are 24 Hispanic students enrolled at Gehlen Catholic.

Niebuhr pointed out enrollment at Gehlen has grown over the past several years “due to the increasing number of Latino and Hispanic Catholics who have enrolled at Gehlen Catholic School, live in Le Mars, and/or belong to All

Lorie Nussbaum

Lorie Nussbaum

Saints Parish in Le Mars.”

“As a member of the Latino Outreach subcommittee of the Enrollment Management Committee, I felt the need to attend and learn how to better serve the needs of our local Latino community, to learn strategies to better welcome them to Gehlen Catholic School and to partner with Latino families in our mutual quest to develop the faith of their children,” she said. “The experience was outstanding with excellent speakers who provided a greater awareness of the history of immigration, politics and Catholic social justice teachings.”

Speakers, Nussbaum said, spoke of the relationship among Latinos, Catholic education and the church, “celebrating the gifts and blessings Latinos bring to the church and society.”

“Additionally, we were treated to shared experiences of communities and schools wherein Latinos and their culture have been embraced, providing attendees with encouragement and support for doing the same in our local schools,” she said. “I was re-affirmed in my commitment to serving the Latino population – a goal of Gehlen Catholic’s Long-Range Strategic Plan and a passion of mine.”

Niebuhr thought the Adelante experience was “absolutely amazing.”

“Lorie and I walked away with so much information,” said the development director. “We have a better understanding of the difference of Hispanics and Latinos, their culture, our school and how we can best serve our Latino and Hispanic Catholics.”

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