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Roots and wings: Minorities at risk when Catholic schools decline

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It is said that parents should give their children roots and wings; roots so they know where they come from and what their family values are, and wings in order to take opportunities and succeed. For many Latino parents, especially if they are recent immigrants raising a first generation child, the giving of wings in a society that is unlike their own may be challenging. Thus making the roots part ever so essential.

For many parents and families, a significant part of those roots is religion and spirituality. One way to establish strong roots especially for minority and Latino parents is within the context of parochial schools. Religious based schooling is well known to have added benefits for minority students versus that of traditional public schools, thus leading the way for greater wingspan. This is especially true as Catholic high schools have high, near 100 percent college admission for graduates.

Aside from increasing educational attainment and opportunities for minority students, Catholic schools also afford a place of comfort for parents and meet a basic need for all students, that of love and belonging. Latino parents and their values are supported when their child attends a parochial school. And for children, when the need for love and belonging is met, they experience increased self-esteem and confidence and perform better academically.

Recently, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor returned to a place of her roots, Blessed Sacrament School, which is one of over 25 New York Archdiocesan schools closing this year, bringing the total to 81 parochial schools closing since 2011. This reality is similar to that happening closer to home for me; in Orange and Los Angeles Archdioceses where in recent years since the recession student enrollment has decreased putting many already at risk schools in to further danger or closing doors.

My parents would have sacrificed the little they had back in the early ’80s when they first immigrated to this country, in order to send my siblings and me to our local parish school, but were unable to. Fortunate for me, being raised in Orange County, the public schools and school district we did attend is one of the more affluent and distinguished.

What they were able to sacrifice was to help pay for my college education at a private, Catholic university. Because of the small, liberal arts, whole-person education I received there, I know my passion and career in youth development and service exist. Furthermore, it is because of the focus on values, spiritual development, and service to others that I was able to give back when I became part of staff and faculty at a private Catholic high school. It had become a part of who I was.

As it stands today, our generation of minority and Latino youth faces increasingly new and troublesome challenges, things that have become normal in today’s youth culture, such as sexting, bullying, and teen dating violence. For some minority youth, society provides avenues for wings, and that’s a positive thing, however, when the basic, root of it all is compromised, then we as a community contribute to negative consequences for our children.


By Being Latino Contributor Claudia Sermeño. Claudia is a first generation Salvadoran-American educator living in Orange County, CA. She can be followed @ClaudiaSermeno.

About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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