While the numbers are “sobering,” the reasons behind low Hispanic enrollment in Catholic schools aren’t so clear-cut, the report declared.
For instance, Catholic schools have seen a decline in enrollment and the total number of schools in the last few decades, particularly since the year 2000, and this has hit urban areas especially hard. The number of religious – many of whom take vows of poverty – staffing these schools has fallen sharply, requiring the employment of lay staff and thus higher salaries. Some schools aren’t able to stay open amid rising costs.
One initiative that might counter this trend is the “Two-Way Immersion Network,” started in 2012 by Boston College. Member schools – currently 17 in number – aim to balance the student body between English- and Spanish-speakers. Bilingualism and biliteracy are emphasized, as well as an encounter of different cultures among the students.
Prayers at the schools are said in both English and Spanish, and the percentage of the Spanish speakers among teachers and staff members is also higher.
For instance, the report noted, St. Matthew School in Phoenix was not far from closing its doors in 2009 with an enrollment of only 159 students, most of whom were Hispanic. After it began implementing the Two-Way program, test scores went up and enrollment increased 25 percent. Students can now speak both English and Spanish.
There is a great need for programs like this, the report insisted, because most Hispanic children currently attend “hyper-segregated” public schools in urban areas, where the quality of the education is poor. This problem is compounded by Hispanic students having the highest dropout rate in the country.
Thus, these children are at a higher risk of poverty when they grow older. Already “about a third of all Hispanic children live in poverty,” the report stated, probably the leading reason why Hispanic families may choose not to enroll their children in private schools.
The future of the Church in the U.S. may well be at stake if the needs of a populace that makes up 60 percent of its children are not met, the report asserted.
“It is imperative that we transform school environments so that the cultures that shape Church and society in our day joyfully meet and share genuine hospitality,” the report concluded. “If Hispanic Catholic families perceive that they are welcomed with all they bring, they will likely look at Catholic schools as a strong option for the education of their children.”