Some years ago, a disturbingly high dropout rate among Latino students attending Northfield High School in Minnesota alarmed teachers and spurred them to take action. In 2004, the Latino graduation rate was 36 percent.
Minnesota Public Radio reports that the dropout problem resulted in the creation of a program targeting Latino students in 2005 known as TORCH, or Tackling Obstacles and Raising College Hopes, aimed at improving graduation and college enrollment rates.
The program was started with a $40,000 grant from the state’s Office of Higher Education, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. It is funded with grants totaling about $100,000 per year, according to MPR.
TORCH leaders say the Latino graduation rate at the high school is now 90 percent and that so far 70 students participating in the program have graduated. Half of the alumni are enrolled in college. Program coordinator Beth Berry told MPR that she helped start program after feeling concerned that students were dropping out of school to work.
Students begin receiving individual after-school mentoring and tutoring, in addition to other programming. College students from the city’s St. Olaf College and Carleton College often mentor students. The program now has about 350 students, 50 of whom are in college. So far, 49 TORCH students have received a college degree or two-year certificate, MPR reports.
High school senior Frank Calvario told MPR News that the program helped improve his grades.
“It gives Hispanic students that sense of having control of what they’re going to do with their lives afterwards,” he said.
Other school districts are taking note. Just 20 minutes down the road, the Faribault school system is trying to replicate the model.
The students’ success is also drawing accolades elsewhere in the state. Minn. Sen. Al Franken stopped by to meet with students. In October, the Minneapolis Star Tribune published an editorial praising the program.