More than 80 Santa Barbara area students, teachers, parents, counselors, and other community members attended this weekend’s educational summit to figure out ways to narrow the Latino achievement gap.
“The college readiness numbers of Latinos are dismal,” said Dr. Marisela Marquez, board member of La Casa La Raza, which means, she said, “The House of the People.”
Eight out of every 100 Chicano students will graduate from a college with a Bachelors degree, compared to 26 out of every 100 white students, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And the almost three million Latino students enrolled in California public schools account for 47 percent of the total.
Three schools in particular were the focus of this two-day summit: McKinley Elementary School, Santa Barbara Junior High School, and Dos Pueblos High School. Representatives from those campuses made up most of the participants at the two-day summit, sponsored by the Latino Achievement Collaborative and held at the Santa Barbara Community Church.
Raquel Lopez, Executive Director of La Casa De La Raza said that institutionalized racism is the main contributor to the gap in Latino school success. “Latino children are told everyday that they can’t achieve, that they aren’t worth much,” Lopez said.
April Lopez, 17, a recent graduate of Dos Pueblos High School, said that although she was born and raised in the states, and English is her primary language, her high school assumed that because of her last name, Spanish was her primary language.
“I was placed in a lower English class with no criteria on my English skills,” Lopez said, wishing she had been assessed into an English class rather than placed into one. Each student, before enrolling into high school, must submit a Home Language Survey—a four-question form filled out by the student’s parents that determines what the student’s primary language is. This form, Lopez said, tended to undermine her high school academic experience. At the very least, she said, the form should “ask what my primary language is, not my parents’.”
Summit attendees started assembling action plans to help Latino students get into college. UCSB Associated Student Senate member Aaron Jones said that mentorship of high school students should help bridge the college degree gap. “We get students thinking, believing that they are qualified for entrance to universities,” Jones said.
Candy Soto, President of the English Learner Advisory Committee, thinks that this mentorship has to start in elementary school because that’s when students are most willing to learn. “Usually in the tenth or eleventh grade, students are told to start taking the right classes to prepare them for college,” Soto said. “By that time, we’ve already lost so much time.”
Assessment testing and the expansion of afterschool programs that serve the underrepresented students will help get more Latinos into college, said John Becchio, principal at Santa Barbara Junior High.
The general consensus of those in attendance was that the summit was a success. “It was awesome to see everyone working together toward the common goal of student success,” said Alena Marie, who coordinated the event. “People were speaking across language barriers, which you don’t see everyday.”
Candidate Monique Limon, a current candidate for the Santa Barbara School Board, said that seeding the idea that college is an option for Latino students is what’s most important.
“We want to make that idea a reality,” Limon said.