Agencies, educators focus on Latino student success

On Oct.16, a distinguished coalition of more than 100 filled Medford Library’s meeting room to tackle a daunting challenge. District 9 administrators and faculty joined other area educators, social agency personnel, business, government and civic leaders for the summit. Their goal: create a plan to improve graduation and success rates for Latino students.    

According to data compiled by Oregon’s Department of Education,
Hispanic youth learn at about the same rate as their classmates of Anglo descent. Yet, the findings conclude, an achievement gap often appears by grade three, and  persists throughout the children’s school careers.

Maria Ramos Underwood of La Clinica highlighted this message of a significant achievement gap, and the 77% rate of low-income families among Latinos. “The only way out of poverty,” she said, “is through education. Members of Latino partnership project, Una Voz, (One Voice) pledge to help find solutions. We’ll follow your lead,” Underwood continued. “Lead us well.”

Participants from District 9 included Curriculum Director, Tina Mondale;
Family Support Liaison, Ila Reimer; Principals Ginny Walker of  White City  Elementary, and Dan Johnson of  White Mountain Middle School.

Phil Ortega serves at District 9’s Attendance and Safe School Facilitator. A bilingual role model, Ortega noted that the schools instituted an early release day to address potential problems common in past years. Parents facing language barriers once needed to take children from class to interpret on essential family errands. “Now we recommend  that families schedule such appointments for Wednesday afternoons, when the kids get out at 1:03,” Ortega said. He also praised White City health centers for hiring bilingual staff.

English Language Learning Program Coordinator Scott Townsend acquired proficiency in Spanish from Yale University, plus studies in Granada and Chile.Townsend accompanied the team that escorted two youngsters from the graffiti removal project to the Oct. 16 event. Middle schoolers George Valle and Arturo Rodriguez, said they joined  this project to help their community, and do the right thing.

Victoria Snow Mountain ushered in the crowd-pleasing touch of culture, Ballet Folklorico. Following their dance presentation, she asked the youngsters their future aspirations. Replies included  Law Enforcement,  Rock Star, Veterinarian, Culinary Arts Master, Marine Biologist, and Anthropologist.      

“All of us must work together to close the achievement gap,” stressed keynote speaker Eduardo Angulo, Executive Director of the Salem/Keizer Coalition for Equality.
His experience working with gangs in L.A. convinces Angulo that insurmountable struggles in school portend  criminal lives, and incarceration. “We can’t afford to spend $50,000 a year each to keep that many in jail,” he shouted. “We’re broke. It’s your tax money. Isn’t it a much better and cheaper investment to educate them?”

A panel of six college students  told of obstacles they’d surmounted throughout their school years. These ranged from feeling lost in the mire of  requirements and resources, to facing ridicule from some faculty members. Jessie Gutierrez gave a  succinct summary. “A teacher at Roosevelt School taunted and punished me for speaking Spanish to my only Hispanic classmate. By my high school years, other students considered my future a ‘dead end road.’” But, like his fellow panelists, he recalled one instructor who believed in him, and helped fill out college scholarship applications. “Now at age twenty,  I’m  working as a construction contractor, applying for a Police Officer’s job, and I own a house.”  

Brainstorming sessions that followed emerged with suggestions for educators: focus on getting more information from students and parents on what help pupils need.  Also from among the partner agencies represented, train and promote more volunteers as student mentors.   

S.O.U. President Dr. Mary Cullinan’s concluding remarks echoed the urgency to recruit, encourage, and retain Latino students at university levels.   
By F. C. Blake
Of the Independent

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