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A project that’s been occupying much of my time lately… The Institute for Educational Initiatives Supporting Recovery of Schooling in Haiti.

The University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives (IEI) and Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) are making major contributions to support Haiti’s recovery from the earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010. One initiative to rebuild educational infrastructure is placing shovels in the ground this week.

That work is underway at the Basil Moreau School, a distinguished primary and secondary school complex in Port-au-Prince that was hit hard by the earthquake. At the school, administered by the Congregation of Holy Cross and serving an impoverished community, the secondary education section was destroyed and the primary school suffered major structural damage.

In another relief project in that country, a partnership including Notre Dame and ACE is establishing a Teacher Institute that will educate the next generation of Haitian schoolteachers. With help from Catholic Relief Services, the international humanitarian agency, a network of partners has been coming together to develop administrative structures and consider sites that would enable an innovative, ambitious approach to teacher education.

Many of the country’s primary and secondary schoolteachers today have little or no formal training. The priests and brothers of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the same order that founded Notre Dame in Indiana, have earned a reputation of educational excellence while serving in Haiti since 1944. They plan to lead the new program of teacher education with help from ACE, which is recognized as a major force in the United States forming tomorrow’s Catholic school leaders. Other partners in the project include Haiti’s Ministry of Education and universities in Quebec, Canada.

“Quality education is the sine qua non for rebuilding a better Haiti,” Father Scully said. “That is why ACE and the IEI are committed to supporting educational rebuilding and renewal in Haiti with our partners in the Congregation of Holy Cross. We believe that, together, through efforts like rebuilding Basil Moreau School and supporting the development of a new Teacher Institute, we can offer a brighter future for the children of Haiti.

It’s worth noting that Catholic schools represent over 40% of the schools in Haiti and most of the quality educational establishments.  With 80% private education, the vast majority of which is faith-based, Haiti must build upon the existing strengths of the private education system while reducing school fees to make schools more accessible for all children.  For this reason Haiti’s national education rebuilding plan is essentially a large voucher plan.  Perhaps the U.S. could learn a thing or two from Haiti no this one!!!

Given the size of the private school sector, this will be an incredible experiment for the power of choice in education.  Haiti has a lot of work to do to realize its plans… rebuilding thousands of schools, training tens of thousands of teachers, improving the curriculum, standards and assessment systems, raising the proportion of government spending for education, improving taxation, and effectively managing a complex financial system for school funding with appropriate accountability and performance incentives… all amidst political uncertainty, cholera, mountains of rubble and crippling poverty.

May God bless Haiti’s rebuilding efforts and give her children hope for a new day.

From Port-au-Prince, signing off…

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I wanted to offer a bit more about Fr. Joe Corpora, CSC, the driving force behind the Catholic School Advantage (CSA): The campaign to increase Latino participation in Catholic schools sponsored by the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education.

Specifically, he offers a beautiful reflection about his Christmas in a small town in Mexico.  A key message of the CSA campaign is to foster greater cultural responsiveness in our Catholic schools.  Reading about Fr. Joe’s reflection and spiritual journey in Mexico is a great place to start your cultural education.

A great article in the U.S. Catholic called an Unexcusable Absence: Catholic Schools Recruit Hispanic Students.  As I was very involved with the Latino Task Force at Notre Dame and worked closely with Fr. Corpora to help launch the Catholic School Advantage Campaign, I can say with confidence that this article hits the nail on the head.

At the forefront of this new outreach effort, the University of Notre Dame in December 2008 commissioned a Task Force on the Participation of Latinos in Catholic Schools. The ambitious goal of this project, which reflects complementary desires to close the Latino academic achievement gap and to reverse enrollment declines in urban Catholic schools, is to double the percentage of Latinos attending Catholic schools, from 3 to 6 percent by 2020. Given population growth estimates, this goal means increasing the national enrollment of Latino children in Catholic schools from 290,000 to more than 1 million students over the next decade, according to the university.

Just more than a year into the campaign, Notre Dame’s Father Joe Corpora, the task force’s co-chair, says it’s too soon to see significant growth in Hispanic Catholic school enrollment, but he can tell that awareness already has heightened.

“This has been met with more interest and enthusiasm than anything we’ve tried to do,” Corpora says. “Every pastor and principal has asked us the question, ‘How can we get more Latinos in the Catholic schools?’”

Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education so far is consulting with schools in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Brooklyn, and San Antonio. It has received inquiries from schools in at least 50 more cities but lacks the resources to partner with all of them, Corpora says, noting he has logged 80 trips to those five cities over the past 14 months.

Lost in immigration

While acknowledging that Bonesz’ predicament is very real, the task force has discovered that it’s more than financial constraints keeping most Hispanic families away from Catholic schools, Corpora says. Two other factors are at play: First, in most Latin American countries there is no such thing as a parish school, so the entire concept is new to many Latino immigrants. Used to Catholic “academies” serving only the most affluent families, families do not even check out local Catholic schools. “They have no idea there are scholarships and aid available,” Corpora says.

Also, Catholic schools in the United States have been slow to realize the differences between Latino immigrants and the descendants of Western European immigrants who founded the schools.

“They’re not culturally responsive to Latinos, which means the culture of the school looks nothing like the culture of their homes,” Corpora says. Because many Latino immigrants work hourly wage jobs, for example, they lack flexibility in their schedules to meet with school staff as needed. Also, many schools’ printed marketing materials never reach them, especially those only in English.

“Our schools for years and years served immigrants. When the immigrants stopped looking like immigrants, we’ve never re-invented our schools to serve today’s immigrants,” Corpora says. “The church has not gotten smart enough to adapt to the local clientele.”

In an 18-month pilot project aided by consulting from Notre Dame’s ACE program, the Diocese of Brooklyn is targeting 30 of its schools situated in areas with large Hispanic population growth in recent years. The goal is to boost Hispanic enrollment 10 to 15 percent by this fall, says Brooklyn diocesan schools superintendent Thomas Chadzutko.

Among the most critical elements is a plan to implement a more personal outreach to Latino parents and adopting a more culturally sensitive outlook, Chadzutko says.

“It’s getting involved with Latino celebrations at the parish level, being a part of Latino prayer groups, and just providing them information on what Catholic education is in the United States,” he says.

Today’s Catholic, the paper for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, reported on a new effort under-way by the four diocesan high schools to engage the Latino population.  A number of leaders from the high schools in the diocese recently attended a workshop hosted by the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) and their Catholic School Advantage (CSA) campaign that seeks to expand the participation of Latino families in Catholic schools.  The workshop, held at Notre Dame’s campus from July 9 to 11, welcomed over 150 Catholic educators from around the country to discuss the critical need for Catholic schools to reach out to Latino children and families.  I’ve discussed the CSA campaign in earlier blog posts, here and here.

It’s great to see the Catholic high schools in the dioceses of Fort Wayne-South Bend really responding to the need to welcome and educate our newest generation of Catholic immigrants through our Catholic schools.  Here are a few highlights from the Today’s Catholic article.

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.

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.”

“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.

A great blog post from the Franciscan Sisters that are working in partnership with the University of Notre Dame’s ND ACE Academies, one of the newest initiatives of the Alliance for Catholic Education.

In a powerful op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, iconic President Emeritus of the University of Notre Dame and a leader in the civil rights movement, reflects upon education as the civil rights issue of our time.  Emphasizing the role of education in providing young people with equality of opportunity, he condemns the actions of congress in removing the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Here are some selections:

If Martin Luther King Jr. told me once, he told me a hundred times that the key to solving our country’s race problem is plain as day: Find decent schools for our kids… Millions of our children—disproportionately poor and minority—remain trapped in failing public schools that condemn them to lives on the fringe of the American Dream.

For all these reasons, I was deeply disappointed when Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.) successfully inserted a provision in last year’s omnibus spending bill that ended one of the best efforts to give these struggling children the chance to attend a safe and decent school.

Despite its successes, it is now closing down. On Tuesday the Senate voted against a measure introduced by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I., Conn.) that would have extended the program. Throughout this process Mr. Duncan’s Education Department and the White House raised no protest.

Much has been written about the crisis in education, and the effective resegregation of our public schools. It’s clear who is paying the price.

Many of the parents using Opportunity Scholarships chose Catholic schools for their children even though they are not Catholic themselves. That’s no coincidence. When others abandoned the cities, the Catholic schools remained, and they continue to do heroic work.

At Notre Dame we launched our own efforts to bolster this mission. Our Alliance for Catholic Education, for example, takes talented young men and women, trains them to see teaching as a career, and then sends them into struggling inner-city schools such as Holy Redeemer in Washington, D.C.

But these inner-city schools can’t do it themselves. Recently the archdiocese of Washington announced that Holy Redeemer would be forced to close its doors at the end of the year because the families who send their children to the school are unable to afford it without the financial aid they receive from this program. The archdiocese stated that “decisions last year by the U.S. Department of Education and by Congress to phase out the federal D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program . . . negatively impacted Holy Redeemer’s financial situation.”

Of Holy Redeemer’s 149 students, 60 were on Opportunity Scholarships. Unlike so many of their peers, these kids were on their way to college. Now they have to find some other safe haven. Others will never get the chance at all.

I know that some consider voucher programs such as the Opportunity Scholarships a right-wing affair. I do not accept that label. This program was passed with the bipartisan support of a Republican president and Democratic mayor. The children it serves are neither Republican nor Democrat, liberal or conservative. They are the future of our nation, and they deserve better from our nation’s leaders.

I have devoted my life to equal opportunity for all Americans, regardless of skin color. I don’t pretend that this one program is the answer to all the injustices in our education system. But it is hard to see why a program that has proved successful shouldn’t have the support of our lawmakers. The end of Opportunity Scholarships represents more than the demise of a relatively small federal program. It will help write the end of more than a half-century of quality education at Catholic schools serving some of the most at-risk African-American children in the District.

I cannot believe that a Democratic administration will let this injustice stand.

Father Hesburgh is the former president of the University of Notre Dame.

The Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) at the University of Notre Dame will be offering a set of unique opportunities for Catholic school advocates and educators this summer.  ACE seeks to sustain and strengthen Catholic schools through leadership formation, research and professional services and is a leading organization in support of Catholic schools nationally.  For those interested in supporting Catholic schools and joining a powerful network of others committed to this mission, consider signing up for one of the programs below.

I will be attending the Advocates for Parental Choice Symposium this year and am very much looking forward to it.  I’d also recommend the Summer Forum on the Participation of Latino Families in Catholic Schools, which is a part of the Catholic School Advantage Campaign.

The following is an excerpt from the ACE Fellowship web-page, which helps coordinate these programs.

Summer Enrichment Opportunities

This summer, hundreds of Catholic school professionals, parents, and advocates will gather at Notre Dame to be enriched in their efforts to make a high quality Catholic education available to all who desire it, and we invite you to be among them. I hope you will join us on campus for one of these programs, and share these opportunities with your communities.