Latino Leadership Forum: Supporting Latino students

The challenges facing Latino students, especially those who are undocumented, and keeping them safe, secure, and academically thriving and prepared for college or career were the focus of two panel discussions during the Latino Leadership Forum Monday at the NSBA Annual Conference in San Antonio.

The National Hispanic Council (NHC), a co-sponsor of the Forum, noted that Latino students currently make up 25 percent of school children and will become a third of the U.S. student population by 2050. Their success as learners and leaders will impact the nation’s success, said Steve Corona, NHC chairman and moderator of the panel.

Superintendent Pedro Martinez of the San Antonio Independent School District said his predominately Latino, high-poverty school district has made significant strides in improving the graduation rate and getting record numbers of students to attend college. But one unintended consequence of this push, and getting more students to apply for financial aid to attend college, has been a greater awareness of the number of students who were born in the U.S., but their parents were not.

These students often “are dealing with many of the same issues” of uncertainty and fear about their futures as undocumented students and DREAMERs, Martinez said. 

Many “amazingly bright students” are not pursuing opportunities to further their education because they don’t have the resources, said Debra Guerrero, secretary of the San Antonio Independent School Board. To counter that, the district is proactive about having conversations with students and working with them on an individual basis to help them look at potential funding resources, she said.

“They do exist,” Guerrero said, noting that TheDream.US, for example, has gathered $25 million to provide scholarships to students eligible for college and to partner with colleges and universities across the country to provide post-secondary educational opportunities.

Corona recommended the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the United We Dream websites as two valuable resources of scholarship information.

Celina Moreno, Southwest Regional Counsel for MALDEF, noted that the Texas Legislature passed the Texas Dream Act, which extends in-state tuition and grant eligibility to long-term residents of the state who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents. “This has proven very important to DREAMER students,” Moreno says.

Many other states also provide this type of support, she said, while urging board members who live in states that don’t to advocate for this type assistance from their state legislatures. 

Martinez told school board members that by navigating the politics of their communities carefully, they can find ways to prioritize their students, help them graduate, go to college, and move into the job market. “You have a lot of power in what your organization does. Make sure you partner with expert groups in your community, for support and advice.”

In a second panel discussion on supporting Latino students as they prepare for careers, Katherine Sanchez-Rocha, interim executive director of Alamo Academies, stressed the importance of working with and listening to businesses and industries in your community to help develop the CTE programs and certifications that will best position students for the job market.

Alamo Academies is an award winning, STEM-based instructional model that operates in partnership with San Antonio area school districts, colleges and businesses. Students who apply and are selected for the intensive educational program are prepared for jobs in information technology (IT), advanced manufacturing, and the healthcare sector.

Instruction also emphasizes teaching time management, setting high expectations, resume-writing, and the soft skills needed to succeed in the workplace, Sanchez-Rocha said. Students who complete the program also can “walk out the door with 30-plus college credits and a resume that they can use to apply for scholarships or other jobs.”

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