Sister Mary Brenda Haynes, left, and Spanish teacher Cynthia Griesheimer stress diversity in their red-brick Queen of Apostles school in one of Toledo's oldest neighborhoods.
The tall, red-brick building that houses Queen of Apostles Catholic School on Courtland Avenue is in one of Toledo oldest neighborhoods about a mile south of downtown.
The building is more than 100 years old and sometimes the heat does not work, but for many of the parents in this neighborhood, the school is an oasis, where Latino children and parents not only have a voice, but are the predominant voice.
Queen of Apostles is the only school in the city where Hispanics are the majority. Of the school's 178 students, 57.5 per cent are Latino, 33.8 per cent white, 4.7 per cent biracial, and 4 per cent African-American.
It is not just the numbers local Latinos talk about but the feeling of acceptance and comfort they find in the hallways and classrooms of the school.
Rudy Lira, who has championed Latino causes in Toledo since the 1960s, said the school is like family, where the fears and concerns of the outside world are put aside because you are learning with people to whom you are close.
“We live in this neighborhood,” said Mr. Lira, who works with the Toledo/Lucas County Victim Assistance Program's Hispanic/Latino outreach. “This is a safe environment. This is a good quality school.”
The school offers Spanish classes twice a week from kindergarten to eighth grade as part of its language-arts program. Advanced Spanish classes are offered after school one day a week for eighth graders.
Sister Mary Brenda Haynes, the school's principal, said the school has had eighth-grade students go on to high school and test into advance Spanish as freshmen.
Juanita Espinoza, a parent and a volunteer at the school, said the teachers at the school have earned the trust of Latino parents here, a big step for a teacher trying to influence a student to learn.
“People say the Hispanic family is close knit and it is,” Mrs. Espinoza said. “I take being a member at Immaculate Conception to heart. What they teach at school is what I teach at home.”
Spanish teacher Cynthia Griesheimer, who has taught at the school for 12 years, said she does not try to teach Spanish as just a language but as a culture.
“The biggest difference I've seen over the years is the enthusiasm and interest in the parents,” Ms. Griesheimer said. “It's growing and they're enjoying what we're doing. Many of the kids don't leave here bilingual, but hopefully will have a sense of their heritage, who they are, and to be proud of who they are.
“Twelve years ago, the students didn't want to have anything to do with learning Spanish because it was associated with poverty, discrimination, and put-downs,” Ms. Griesheimer said. “Many of the students enjoy it now.”
Culture is a big part of Queen of Apostles, Sister Brenda said. Along with Hispanic holidays, the school celebrates Kwanzaa and Black History Month, despite its small African-American enrollment.
“I think [the students] respect each other's culture,” she said. “I think [our diversity] helps everybody. They are able to understand and learn about each other because they have to deal with each other.”
Sister Brenda said the school and children there have been very accepting of families who don't speak English.
“We had two students come here straight from Mexico and didn't know English, and we had several of our bilingual students help them,” Sister Brenda said. “Rudy's kids, who are bilingual, were a big help. Rudy has instilled in them that their language is a gift, but it's also a responsibility to share it with others.”
Mrs. Espinoza said when non-English-speaking families see others who look like them, it makes them feel at ease.
“Hispanic families who don't speak English feel comfortable here,” Mrs. Espinoza said. “They see other Hispanic families here, and they feel welcome. During recess times, I hear students speaking to each other in Spanish, and they can do that without feeling ashamed or embarrassed. Older Hispanics felt embarrassed because they didn't know English.”
The cost of attending Queen of Apostles is a struggle for most families here. For parishioners, Queen of Apostles costs $1,250 per student annually and $1,600 for nonparishioners, one of the lowest in the Diocese of Toledo.
Sister Brenda said she understands why some parents feel that their children need to attend her school and why they have taken two jobs to see that it happens. She tries to be as accommodating as possible.
Sister Brenda said it is just one of the many struggles Queen of Apostles takes on to remain a unique school in Toledo.