By RENEE WEBB
As the number of Latino students attending Catholic schools in the Diocese of Sioux City grows, the need to seek their input and ensure open lines of communication also increases.
Several Catholic schools in the diocese have established ambassador programs to reach out to other parents in the system and now a few schools have started programs specifically geared to the Latino population.
Patty Lansink, principal at St. Rose of Lima School in Denison, said they initiated a program called Madrina in 2013 to reach out to Latino families in their school after she attended the Latino Enrollment Institute at Notre Dame.
“Madrina in Spanish means godmother,” she explained. “It is basically a group of trusted women – parents in the school. They help me with everything. If I have an idea, I run it by them to see what they think about it. They are my sounding board.”
There is a core group of about five women who assist the St. Rose principal in a variety of ways. Lansink bounces ideas off of them for fundraisers and activities, seeks their input on effective ways to increase family participation in school activities and relies on them to help spread communication.
“We look at barriers to communication and what might help families feel more welcome in our school,” Lansink said. “They have also helped with some fundraisers.”
After low attendance at the school’s spring auction, the principal was informed Latinos are more into raffles.
“We held a few raffles and got a great response,” she said.
Given the population of St. Rose is now about 65 percent Latino, Lansink fully realizes the importance of reaching out. About five years ago, the Hispanic population was about 40 percent.
While the Latino population is just about 8 percent at Gehlen Catholic School in Le Mars, Mary Klein said the number of Latino families in the area is increasing and the school has seen a slight rise in attendance.
Gehlen started a Latino Outreach Group last year. It was built on a similar concept to Denison’s Madrina group, but it is made up of men and women parents. To help get the group up and running, they had discussions with Lansink about how the group worked and its benefits.
“With a Spanish Mass here at St. James, we could see there were a lot of Latino families in the area with children,” said Klein, assistant development director at Gehlen who heads up the outreach group. “We wanted to reach out to them and invite them to visit Gehlen. We also had a few Latino families at our school and we wanted to communicate better with them and help their experience at Gehlen.”
Through the outreach group, she said Gehlen hoped to seek their input and help in reaching out to others. The Latino Outreach Group works to spread the word about the value of a Catholic education to those not enrolled as well as help with communication for families already part of the school.
When the group initially was forming, the school’s priest chaplain attended the meetings to help with communication. Initially Father Pat Behm, who was fluent in Spanish, had that role and presently Father Mauro Sanchez serves in that capacity.
“It’s been a great experience for all of us,” said Klein, who said the group meets quarterly. “It’s very positive. We’ve built some great friendships by being part of the group and have had a lot of fun together.”
In addition to helping create an open flow of communication, Klein said the outreach group has helped to organize a few events. After a Spanish Mass in early fall, the group hosted an open house with Father Sanchez. They served sweet bread and beverages.
“We were there to meet people and if they had any interest in Gehlen, we could answer questions,” Klein said. “Several of us also attended Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a celebration. The next morning, we had an all-school Mass and several of the Latino families came and did a native dance and we did a procession of roses.”
She said it was a great way for Gehlen students to learn about the Hispanic culture.
Lansink said women in Madrina have helped with communication inside and outside of the school. Broad-based email communication, she added, doesn’t work to reach all of the parents at St. Rose because not everyone has access.
“We have to think outside of the box and develop better ways to communicate with our families,” she said.
Last year the women involved with Madrina also helped Lansink with communicating the importance of school choice. One of the women spoke at the education celebration at the state capitol in Des Moines.
The Madrina group meets about quarterly, but they get together as needed to help with various projects. Many of the women are hands-on when it comes to involvement in various projects at the school and have worked to not only provide manpower themselves but to get others involved.
One of the best outcomes of the group has been the building up of relationships.
“It’s been great to have them involved. They really take ownership,” said Lansink, who noted any school can start an outreach group like this one. “It just takes a few key parents that you know will dig in.”