Report shows U.S. Catholic schools not doing enough for Latino Catholics

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sid Hastings, St. Louis Review

By Carol Zimmermann

schools in the United States are falling short in serving the growing number of
Latino Catholics, according to a new report released March 7.

The Boston
College report, “Catholic Schools in an Increasingly Hispanic Church,” looks at the disparity between the number of school-age
children who are Hispanic — 12.4 million — and the number of these students
enrolled in Catholic schools — 296,203 or 2.3 percent. Of the total 12.4 million Hispanic students, about 8 million are Catholic.

numbers are without a doubt sobering,” the report says, pointing out that
even with stronger efforts by Catholic leaders and school communities to
recruit Hispanic students, “the total enrollment of Hispanic children in
Catholic schools remains almost stagnant.”

report also notes that the growing number of Latino Catholic school-age
children in the U.S., especially in the past two decades, has “coincided
with considerable challenges to the Catholic school educational system and a
decline in its resources.” It points out that 50 years ago, there were more
than 13,000 Catholic elementary schools, compared to 6,568 in 2015.

The 56-page
report conducted by researchers from Boston College’s Roche Center for Catholic
Education and its School of Theology and Ministry, unpacks findings from the
college’s 2014 study, “National Study of Catholic Parishes with Hispanic
Ministry,” conducted with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate
at Georgetown University. It also includes survey results from principals at
656 Catholic schools out of the 1,488 identified as serving Hispanic families
in the United States.

survey findings indicate a fair amount of work needs to be done, but
also that “there is no magic bullet.” The report emphasizes the need
for a “renewed approach” that will “engage as many voices and
perspectives as possible” when looking at finances, personnel, curriculum,
enrollment, facilities or governance of Catholic schools.

data the researchers collected from school principals provides a somewhat
telling snapshot of U.S. Catholic schools:

Fourteen percent of Catholic school leaders and 12 percent of teachers
self-identify as Hispanic, while 17 percent of school leaders reported they
speak Spanish.

— Only
17 percent of the schools have recruitment strategies to hire bilingual

— Approximately
23 percent of school leaders received training about Hispanic culture, but only
17 percent received training about Hispanic ministry and theology.

— About
200 schools did not have any Hispanic board members and the 68 percent that did had only two Latinos or fewer as school board members.

— At
the diocesan level, Catholic schools administrative offices and offices focused
on Hispanic ministry interact rarely or infrequently.

disparities amount to missed opportunities in mission and ministry for Catholic
schools and the church, according to the researchers.

response to the growing Hispanic presence in the church in the United States,
particularly Hispanic children and youth,” the report says, “must be
the result of a concerted, collaborative effort among all its units — no
exception. If we fail to do this, the entire church body suffers.”

report credits many schools for increased efforts to be welcoming to Hispanic
students and families, but it also notes that “unknowingly, some Catholic
schools exhibit what has been described as a ‘chilly climate’ when hosting
Hispanic families.”

part, this could be from not fully embracing Latino culture because the schools
surveyed revealed that 21 percent used Spanish and English for prominent signs
and about 35 percent had students say school prayers in Spanish and English.

majority of the responding schools reported providing need-based financial aid
to approximately half of their Hispanic students. For one in five of these
students, that assistance covers at least 50 percent of their tuition.

But the
study also showed that a lack of family finances or school revenues “has
not deterred healthy Hispanic enrollments in many schools. Rather, low Hispanic
enrollment might be more related to school cultures attached to embedded practices
of exclusivity, coupled with the absence of strong stewardship practices.”

report used the word Hispanic throughout, pointing out in the notes that it is
a “stylistic preference, keeping with official use by government agencies,
church documents and traditional pastoral practice.”

In September, the Boston College
researchers will hold the first National Summit on Catholic Schools and
Hispanic Families to examine challenges raised by the research and develop
strategies for Catholic schools to engage a demographic seen as critical to the church.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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