Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Diocese Hosts NCEA Conference on School Enrollment, Vitality and Engagement of Hispanic Community

Principals of Catholic schools in the Diocese joined fellow educational leaders from Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey for a regional conference of the National Catholic Educational Association on September 21, hosted by the Diocese’s Office of Catholic Education.

The event featured speakers from the Diocese, the NCEA and Renaissance Learning, as well as national experts in outreach to the Latino community, who focused on engagement, enrollment and operational vitality for Catholic schools’ continued success and growth.

“Enrollment needs to be an outcome of community,” said Lincoln Snyder, President and CEO of the NCEA, during a presentation on welcoming and retaining students. He and Crystal Berry, the NCEA’s Vice-President of Marketing and Business Development, offered practical tips and solutions for principals to understand their schools’ market, track data and trends, and standardize practices.

Catholic schools cannot rest on the increase in enrollment seen across the board in the wake of public-school closings during the pandemic, Snyder said. At their peak, Catholic schools had more than 5.5 million students in 13,000 schools, “benefitting from a system that was community-first” with free tuition and instruction from religious congregations.

Today, there are 1.7 million students in 5,950 schools, he said. “We have to be talking about best practices on how to make sure we are on a trajectory of growth.”

Snyder said the biggest challenge for Catholic schools today is to build community with the Hispanic population.

“Over half of the Catholic school-age children in the United States today are Hispanic. Only four percent of them are in our schools,” he said.

Katy Lichon, Director of the Catholic School Advantage and an Associate Teaching Professor with ACE Teaching Fellows, and Mayra Wilson, Director of Latino Outreach for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, addressed ways to build community with the Hispanic population.

In a break-out session, they prompted the principals to discuss the gifts that Latino students bring to their schools, what they noticed if they’ve ever attended a Mass in Spanish, and steps their school would take to welcome and include Latino students.

“We have a specific call as a ministry of the Church to make sure we’re doing our part of engaging the Latino population,” Snyder said. “We have to come together and make sure we’re addressing these challenges in order to better build community.”

The regional conference concluded with a dual presentation by the developers of the Hallow app. Harrisburg natives and Bishop McDevitt High School graduates Alessandro DiSanto and Nathan Crankfield spoke about the inspiration for designing the app, and the restorative nature of prayer in being a balm to the stress and anxiety that educators and students face.

We focus on recentering people on the restorative aspect of prayer in order to find peace,” DiSanto said.

He pointed to a recent study indicating that 41 percent of adults report having anxiety and depression in a given year, and 71 percent of Generation Z feeling miserable at least once every two weeks. “We have a mission of educating mind, body and spirit, but a stressed mind is not a learning mind,” DiSanto said.

“The message is that Christ wants to help. Christ is the Divine Physician, and He heals, in a real way. He says to us, ‘Come to me, and I will give you rest….’ It is an explicit invitation; He wants us to come to Him through prayer…. We can get started by resetting ourselves in the silence to hear God,” DiSanto said.

Daniel Breen, Diocesan Secretary for Education, told The Witness that the regional NCEA conference marked the first such event hosted by the Diocese.

“It’s been mutually beneficial for us and for the NCEA,” he said, noting that the presenters also spoke at the Diocesan Education Conference the previous day.The presenters are bringing a significant level of expertise to our principals and teachers.”

“I’ve always said it’s incredibly important to have a national perspective to what we do. There are brilliant things happening all across the country, and you have to be a student of it,” Breen said. “So in this event today, our educators are becoming the students.

Learn more about Catholic schools in the Diocese at www.GoCatholicSchools.org.

(Mass photos by Chris Heisey, convention photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness  

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