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Schools Embrace Language, Heritage, and Identity as Community Assets

Hispanic Heritage Month Feature

In 2015, the Archdiocese of Washington and its schools embarked on a journey to become more intentional about welcoming and engaging Hispanic families in Catholic education. At the time, Bishop Mario Dorsonville was a champion for encouraging schools to be representative of the rich and beautiful diversity of the Church in the Archdiocese of Washington, where nearly 40% of Catholics are Hispanic.

These efforts gained momentum in 2018 when the Catholic Schools Office, in partnership with Crimsonbridge Foundation, hosted the Latino Enrollment Institute On the Road for its schools. The Latino Enrollment Institute is a nationally renowned program of the University of Notre Dame that provides schools with marketing strategies and school culture interventions to better attract and serve Latino families. Principals, pastors, and staff from more than 50 schools in the Archdiocese of Washington participated in the three-day training.

Following the training, school leaders expressed a need for tools and resources to welcome and serve Latino families more intentionally. To respond to this need, the Crimsonbridge Foundation launched Bridges for Schools. Now in its sixth year, Bridges for Schools provides funding and guidance for schools to invest in Spanish and bilingual communications, parent engagement strategies, cultural competency, bilingual staffing, and more. Since 2018, 27 schools in the Archdiocese of Washington have participated, with nearly 90% participating for more than one year.

For some schools, their greatest need has been professional translation services to translate school marketing materials, website content, and essential school documents. Other schools have used funds to hire Latino family liaisons who spearhead efforts to welcome and engage Spanish-speaking families and provide translation at school events. Sacred Heart School in DC used Bridges for Schools funding to add the school name in Spanish to the exterior of their building and create a promotional video narrated by a school parent, welcoming other Spanish-speaking families to the school community.

Elise Heil, Principal of Sacred Heart School, said,

“Bridges for Schools has given us the tools we need to leverage the gifts and talents of our Hispanic families in hopes of bringing more families into our community. It has been such a joy to see what can happen when an entire community is supported and encouraged to work together!”

Incredible results follow when schools embrace language, heritage, and identity as community assets. The impact of investing in inclusive communications and parent engagement strategies includes increased enrollment and retention, family satisfaction, and overall school and parish vitality. In 2015, Hispanic enrollment in Archdiocese of Washington schools was at 10%. It is now at 16%, an increase of more than 1,200 Hispanic students.

“We have heard from partners time and again that cultivating welcoming and inclusive school communities benefits all students and families,”

shares Gabriela Smith, Founder and Executive Chair of Crimsonbridge Foundation.

Bridges for Schools has grown each year, expanding first to the Diocese of Arlington and, this year, to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in partnership with the Connelly Foundation. Schools in the Archdiocese of Washington have become a national model for how robust communications and family engagement strategies can transform school communities. For more information, please visit our Bridges for Schools Program Guide.


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