‘Juntos’ Programs Target Teens and Parents

A growing number of school districts and universities are working together to push more Latino youth to pursue a college education.

At the same time, school districts also are seeking to boost Latino parent involvement.

A program called Juntos, which means “together” in Spanish, tackles both goals. The program originated at North Carolina State University and now is being replicated at middle and high schools in several states. It is intended for students in the eighth- through twelfth-grades.

As part of the program, Latino teens and their parents attend a six-week-long series of workshops that tackle topics including goal-setting, the college admissions process and seeking financial aid for college.

The Tulsa World newspaper reports that Oklahoma State University and the Tulsa Public Schools are now partnering to implement the program.

“Many Latino parents don’t know how to navigate the American education system and because of where they come from, these parents see the school as the one in power,” said Antonio Marín, a grant coordinator at Oklahoma State. “They need to know they can come to the school to talk to the principal and the teacher and the counselor, and that college is an option for their kids.”

Oregon State University is also leading a Juntos program for students in Madras, Oregon. It is part of the university’s “Open Campus” initiative, which aims to work with K-12 schools, colleges and local government to create higher education opportunities.

Open Campus coordinator Jennifer Oppenlander told KTVZ News that involving parents and their children in the activities makes the program distinctive.

“By attending Juntos together, the experience gives families a comfort level and makes them feel as if they have a support group,” she said.

Are colleges and school districts in your community partnering to work together on similar programs? If not, what is the state of relations between K12 and higher education institutions in your community?

Related Links:

“Juntos Initiative Helps Tulsa Latino Students Succeed,” Tulsa World.

“OSU Program Preps Madras Latinos for College,” KTVZ.com.

“Juntos Summit Unites Latino Students in Quest for Higher Education and Rewarding Careers,” North Carolina State University News Center.

– The Juntos Program

High schools Embrace Latino-themed Organizations On Campus

High schools are beginning to recognize that clubs and organizations specifically targeted toward Latino youth are one way to increase student engagement.

The Winston Salem-Journal in North Carolina reports that  Mount Tabor High School recently launched a Latino Achievers program geared at instilling students’ pride in their heritage and making them aware of educational opportunities. Last school year, the program served 800 Hispanic students in six area high schools.

The program brings successful Latino adults, including those in professions such as nursing and interpreting, on campus to speak with students. They also are provided other academic support.

A school counselor reached out to the local YMCA about the program, which helps operate the program with support from the United Way. The Latino Achievers program is administered in cities across the United States.

The students feel “someone cares about them and wants to invest in their future,”  Mount Tabor counselor Corey Daniel told the newspaper. “We need them to care about their community, and we need their community to care about them.”

Similarly, in the Dallas suburb of Irving, Texas, students and teachers created the Latinos Stand Up organization for Hispanic families, providing opportunities for students such as college visits. The League of Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, also has a youth leadership program with local site chapters throughout the United States.

I have noticed that these organizations can draw criticism based on the fact that they target once specific ethnic group.

Are you seeing similar organizations form in your communities? Are the groups being met with any resistance or controversy?

Related Links:

– “Program inspires Latino students.” Winston-Salem Journal.

North Carolina District Accused of Discriminating Against Spanish-Speaking Families

Two groups charge that the Wake County Public School System in North Carolina has violated the civil rights of Spanish-speaking parents by providing important notices regarding their children only in English.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Advocates for Children’s Services sent a letter of complaint on Tuesday to school superintendent Tony Tata, reports The News & Observer.

The groups say that three parents did not receive information in Spanish about suspensions and special-education. According to the groups, the parents also did not receive written notice about meetings related to the special education process, or information about their children’s Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Parents also were not given notices about long-term suspensions and information about how to appeal a decision or pursue alternative education programs, the groups say.

“Despite the presence of a large Spanish-speaking community in the district and the important rights at stake during the special education and discipline processes, WCPSS has failed to develop and implement a system by which written documents are routinely translated and provided to LEP (limited English proficient) parents,” the letter said.

The groups noted that Spanish-language information can increase parent involvement and improve students’ academic performance.

However, the school district’s web site includes a Spanish-language section that has information such as a back to school guide, along with pages about the schools’ before- and after-school programs and vaccine information. In a statement, the superintendent said that the district has been proactive in supporting the needs of Spanish-speaking families through community and media partners.

The  groups requested a number of changes, including that a Spanish-speaking employee be dedicated to work on discipline matters, that a web site be developed in Spanish and that parents are provided information about suspensions and special education in Spanish.

Latino students currently make up about 15  percent of the school system’s 146,000 students. In the district, there are about 11,040 (7.5 percent) classified as limited English proficient and 5,913 (4 percent) students participating in English as a second language courses.

The Southern Poverty Law Center also filed a civil rights complaint last year against the Durham Public Schools in North Carolina accusing the system of discriminating against English language learners and their parents.

The district eventually reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education pledging to make a number of changes, including making interpreters available to parents and creating a communication plan for Spanish-speaking parents.

It appears that the SPLC is on the lookout for districts that don’t appear to provide sufficient Spanish-language services. In your own district, are there interpreters on staff? Do your schools use bilingual staff to translate in person and in documents?

You can read the letter of complaint against Wake County here.

Durham Public Schools Reach Out to Latinos in Wake of Civil Rights Complaint

Almost a year ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights accusing the Durham Public Schools in North Carolina of discrimination against Latino and English language learner students and their parents.

The charges made by the Montgomery, Alabama, based civil rights organization were severe. In one example given, a high school teacher allegedly pushed a Hispanic student against the wall and told the student to “go back to your own country.” Another teacher was accused of using anti-Hispanic slurs. One district official was accused of asking a student for a passport and immigrant visa when the family tried to enroll.

The complaint also pointed to a larger problem with a lack of communication between the district and many Latino families: The district had only three Spanish interpreters, while more than 5,300 students spoke Spanish at home.

But now, The News & Observer reports that educators and community members are coming together to discuss how to better serve the district’s roughly 6,000 Hispanic students. A new Latino Parent Council helped arrange an event where teachers, principals and members of the Durham CAN (Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods) group met to discuss how the district is serving its Hispanic students. The group also examined the need for more bilingual counselors, teachers and office staff.

“It’s recognizing that any kind of change really requires the input from the people who are doing the work with the kids,” said Durham CAN organizer Ivan Parra.

Some change is evident from the district’s web site, which promotes a partnership with the LaMega Radio Station for a Spanish-language monthly talk show where district officials will share information with Hispanic families. Families are welcome to call in with questions. There’s also a Spanish-language information section on the district’s web site home page.

Last November, the district reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to make several changes:

  • Make the anti-discrimination policy stronger;
  • Make sure that policies don’t discourage students who are undocumented immigrants from enrolling and that students are not asked about immigration status;
  • Distribute documents such as registration forms, field trip permission forms and requests for parent conferences (and letters to parents);
  • Develop a plan to ensure effective communication with limited-English parents;
  • Make interpreters available to help parents (a district spokesperson now says there are eight full-time interpreters).

Have you seen similar tensions or problems arise in your own communities? Here are the full changes that the district agreed to make.