Pictured: Teri Fairbanks and Catherine Lucero (Our Lady of Perpetual Help Glendale); Jennette Zander (St. Theresa); Victoria Lord (St. John XXIII); Julie Higgins (Our Lady of Perpetual Help Scottsdale)

Partnership That Builds Passion:

University of Notre Dame Programs Improve Outreach and Accommodation

A strong relationship that has been nurtured for many years between the Diocese of Phoenix Catholic schools and the University of Notre Dame has yielded impact and success for students and schools for more than a decade.  In addition to the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) Program that was the focus of the December CEA newsletter, two other programs have been significant to local Catholic schools—the Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) and the Program for Inclusive Education.

The LEI was founded in 2012 by Notre Dame’s Catholic School Advantage program.  In response to data showing that Latinos comprise the most rapidly growing segment of both the Catholic Church and underserved Catholic schools, LEI assists principals, pastors, teachers, and development professionals through building a framework for developing and maintaining relationships with the Latino community.  Making Catholic education accessible, attainable, and affordable for all is the goal, and learning culturally appropriate and sensitive strategies helps to make that happen.

Since its inception in 2012, 16 schools in the Diocese of Phoenix have participated in the LEI on campus in South Bend, Indiana.  St. Agnes Catholic School principal, Christine Tax, works for Notre Dame’s LEI as a principal coach at the local and national levels.  Tax, who also serves on a Diocesan level committee for Hispanic and Latino outreach, has helped to grow enrollment both at St. John Vianney Catholic School where she was assistant principal and at St. Agnes, where enrollment has grown by 73 students in 3 years.

“I began to build relationships with each family,” stated Tax, “and then I was able to help them through the process of applying for the many scholarships available.”  Maintaining relationships is also part of the strategy. “We made sure important pieces of the Latino culture were present at the school.  Students and families needed to be able to connect with their culture.” Whether through artwork, religious celebrations, prioritizing Our Lady of Guadalupe and Dia de los Muertos, St. Agnes has intentionally created a welcoming environment for everyone.

The three beliefs that drive the Program for Inclusive Education (PIE) at the University of Notre Dame are 1—ALL students are made in the image and likeness of God; 2—We are called to educate ALL students inclusively regardless of need; and 3—Inclusion is intentional. Driven by the same philosophy as the Latino Enrollment Institute, the University of Notre Dame PIE Program seeks to help schools make Catholic education accessible and attainable to any family that desires one.

During the summer of 2019, teachers and administrators from St. Theresa Catholic School, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glendale, St. John XXIII, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale participated in the program.  Julie Higgins of OLPH Scottsdale and PIE Cohort 2 graduate “wishes all teachers knew that inclusion is not about creating multiple lesson plans to serve the various students in their class but rather a willingness to look at their lesson plans through a different lens—to determine exactly what they want their students to know, what barriers may exist for students to learn, and how to eliminate barriers.”  Higgins stated that the biggest benefit of the program is that she now has a classroom that is inclusive to all.  She operates in a way that creates supports for ALL types of learners every day in every lesson.  The PIE program has equipped teachers like Higgins, Jenny Zander at St. Theresa, and Teri Fairbanks and principal Cathy Lucero at OLPH Glendale to serve all students, as Catholic schools are called to do through their Catholic educational mission.

The Arizona Catholic Schools Disabilities Fund (now The Matthew 19:14 Project) supports inclusion in Catholic schools and has provided financial assistance for teachers and administrators throughout the Diocese of Phoenix.  These funds have helped teachers and leaders build knowledge and skills to teach all learners through degree programs and certificate programs, including PIE.  The educational mission of the Catholic church pushes schools to be more than private schools and embrace their Catholic mission first.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis says, “Our great challenge is to create a culture of encounter which encourages individuals and groups to share the richness of their traditions and experience; to break down walls and to build bridges.” This is exactly what LEI and PIE are helping schools to do throughout the country.