Throughout the National Summit on Catholic Schools Serving Hispanic Families*, many proclamations started with “We should …” and a follow up question was often, “Who is the We?” In order for any idea to become a reality, that is, if this program is to be initiated or that priority is to be addressed, it needs to be clearly stated who will own it, who will be responsible for it, and who will be accountable for its progress. NativityMiguel schools were founded by individuals who stepped up and said ‘Yes’ to the idea that all students deserve a quality education, that faith-based education is uniquely positioned to deliver this education and that our schools need to remain accessible to the economically poor. Building on this founding spirit, NativityMiguel Schools have an important stake in the ‘We’ and we are charged with strategizing how we can best use available time and resources to address challenges and leverage opportunities in order to fulfill our responsibility and accountability.
To this pursuit, I offer the following takeaways from the National Summit for all those who are responsible and accountable for the educational mission of NativityMiguel Schools:
Never Stop Learning. The terms Cultural Competency and Cultural Proficiency imply some acceptable standard. Rather than aspiring to a certain bar, the standard should be always learning to be more understanding of how culture shapes our identity. Our aim should be that we, each individual and our entire extended school community, are culturally aware at all times and engaging all representative cultures in our mission.
Value Diversity: At 39% Latino and 47% African-American, NativityMiguel Schools collectively educate a diverse population. Over 2/3 of our schools, however, serve either a predominantly (defined as >70%) Latino or African-American population. While we deliver an education that is accessible to the students we serve, if we believe in the value of diversity, how can all of our students learn, respect and be in relationship with students from other cultures as well?
Advocate for Our Students: Many of our graduates may enroll in high schools with school cultures that reflect a predominantly Anglo population. Our Graduate Support Directors advocate for our graduates by informing these high schools how to become more welcoming, culturally-aware and adaptive to the needs and identity of all students.
Excellence is a Priority for all families. Regardless of variances in curriculum, instructional approaches, school culture, parent engagement and other systems, our education must begin with a commitment to excellence and lead to excellence in academic achievement and student formation.
Invest in adults. The best way to animate long-term change is to invest in adults. Our schools understand the dispositions necessary to be successful educators in our mission. By spending the time and resources to mature these dispositions, we are developing teachers, care-givers, leaders and board members who will become invested in and build toward our vision.
It all starts with an invitation. In order to increase the number of faculty, board members or leaders who are persons of color, we need to extend a personal invitation to grads, community members, or students on campus of our higher education partners. Is there a student graduating from college who would be great as a teacher? Extend an invitation. Is there a teacher in our schools who would be a great leader? Extend an invitation to a leadership pipeline program such as Ready to Lead within the Coalition or the Remick Leadership Program at the University of Notre Dame or a similar program at one of many at our universities and college.
Seamless System of Education. Our higher education institutions are willing and able partners to continue our K-12 educational mission. Many, like St. Mary’s University in Winona, MN, are increasing the enrollment of underrepresented students by designing programs specifically targeted to meet the needs of the whole student. Additionally, higher education is committed to linking the expertise and research priorities of their faculty to study what is working and apply their expertise to improve outcomes for more students and families. Schools of education at Boston College, Loyola Marymount University and Loyola Chicago have created centers to be directly engaged in this work.
Set goals and be accountable to them. This is true at all levels: individual schools, diocesan schools office and national associations. What is our goal for enrollment? For high school graduation? For college graduates who have come through a Catholic school system? Have we been successful for all students or for particular student profiles? What are our goals for training and forming Latinos to be teachers and leaders? As the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) rethinks and redefines its role, could a set of national strategic goals drive our work at the diocesan and school level? Set the goals, ask for each diocese and sponsoring congregation to devise a plan as to how they will contribute toward the goals, and then act.
We all have a share. We can not get stuck in our silos, even in our Coalition. We are stronger together, learning from one another, determining the best use of resources to have the greatest impact with the maximum number of students and families. By working together, in 5 years, 10 years and 25 years, we can realize a positive trajectory of a growing number of Latino families and children receiving a Catholic education.
Think abundance not deficit. The National Summit is testament that there is much happening already for us to build upon. This is not about what we are not doing. It is about what we are doing well and being more efficient with resources, time and knowledge to do better for more students and families who deserve and desire a quality, Catholic education.
* The National Summit on Catholic Schools Serving Hispanic Families was sponsored by the Roche Center for Catholic Education of the Lynch School of Education at Boston College on September 19-21, 2016 in Boston. Tad Smith, Executive Director of the San Miguel School of Chicago, and Sonya Arriola, President at Sacred Heart Nativity School in San Jose, CA represented their schools and the NativityMiguel Coalition. Terry Shields, Director of the Coalition also participated in the Summit.