August 11, 2010 // Local

Catholic high schools working to attract Latino students

Alicia Lopez of the Bishop Luers High School class of 2009 is shown with Mary Keefer. Lopez was the recipient of the Bail Scholarship.

By Tim Johnson

FORT WAYNE — All four diocesan high schools have recognized the importance of welcoming Hispanic students in their communities. Bishop Luers High School, on Fort Wayne’s south side, already boasts diversity as a school strength. Of the 546 students at the school, about 25 to 30 are Hispanic, according to Principal Mary Keefer.

But Keefer and the school’s marketing team are making it a goal to make “all families feel welcome from the moment they walk in our doors.”

Keefer and the school’s marketing people recently attended an Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) workshop called “To Nurture the Soul of a Nation: Latino Families, Catholic Schools, and Educational Opportunity.”

Keefer told Today’s Catholic, “Each family is looking for something different from a school. If families come to our door, we already know that ‘Catholic’ education is a priority. Quality academics, safety, care, nurture, socialization are all parental needs for their children. Bishop Luers High School must continue to learn to meet all families’ needs, regardless of their cultural background.”

Keefer feels the Hispanic students enhance the Luers’ community. “Education is always a two way street. The word catholic (small ‘c’) means all inclusive; all are welcome. Bishop Luers High School must be a small community that reflects the larger community.”

She adds, “Our world is not made up of people who look the same, act the same, celebrate the same. Our school must teach our young people to embrace all, to see God in all. When you have a locker beside someone who is different from you and they cry when they are sad, they rejoice when they earned an ‘A’ on a difficult exam, they fall in love, they pray, just like you do, the realization sets in that we are all God’s children. Prejudice is wiped away when friendships form. Our world must learn to embrace difference and we must learn to live together.”

Attending a Catholic high school does mean a financial sacrifice. “We have a fantastic development director. Kathy Skelly and our alumni ladies, Melissa Hire and Sarah Shank, have done yeomen jobs in letting our supporters know that we cannot run this school without them,” notes Keefer. “The diocese and Bishop (John M.) D’Arcy are extremely supportive of not only Bishop Luers High School, but all Catholic schools. I know that Bishop (Kevin C.) Rhoades is a staunch supporter of Catholic schools.”

Keefer says, “Most of the financial aid that is given to our families is raised through Walk-a-Thon, LuersKnight, annual fund. Jenny Andorfer is our director of admittance. ‘How can we pay for this education?’ is a question that she is often asked. Jenny is prepared to let our families know that help is available. However, this is a community to which we all contribute. Everyone must pay something. Catholic school is not inexpensive, but it is very much worth the cost.”

Keefer feels it is important to get the word out to the Hispanic community. Those driving down Paulding Road in front of the main entrance to the school may notice signage in Spanish. “We must do more,” Keefer says. “Often our students must translate for their parents. We are working on putting more of our information in the Spanish language.”

But the best publicity comes from parents. “ Good news travels by word of mouth. Our happy parents are our best ambassadors. When any student attends Bishop Luers High School and she is happy, learning and growing, word spreads,” Keefer says.

Bishop Luers and Catholic schools are well-suited for Hispanic children. “We love our students,” Keefer says. “The nurturing and the care that our young people experience is second to none. Our students are successful. They attend college. They practice our faith in school. They learn about the richness of Catholicism. They learn to be persons of service to others. They learn that they are Christ’s representatives on earth. They learn to see Christ in others.”

At Bishop Dwenger High School on Fort Wayne’s north side, Principal Jason Schiffli reports the school too has reached out to the Hispanic community. Bishop Dwenger’s student body is 2 percent Hispanic at this time.

“We have already used our new digital sign out at the corner of Washington Center and North Clinton to wish the Hispanic community well on American and traditional Latin holidays,” Schiffli tells Today’s Catholic. Bishop Dwenger has also created a Hispanic Outreach Committee, made up of three faculty members.

At Marian High School in Mishawaka, Principal Carl Loesch has noted that the school’s Hispanic student body has increased dramatically, making the Hispanic population the fastest growing minority population there. The school offers a vibrant Spanish Club, and incorporates devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

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