Ditching the Diploma

Local Latinos Must Overcome Many Obstacles to Acheive Success in School

Local Latinos Must Overcome Many Obstacles to Acheive Success in School.

by Renee Sklarew

While attending Potomac Falls High School in Loudoun County, Dennis Rosado was student leader of UNITY, a multicultural group offering students a place to have a voice and share ideas. Rosado worked hard in school and was accepted into George Mason University. What drove him to excel? Rosado explains, “Within most Hispanic cultures, family is extremely important and holds a powerful influence in the lives of the children. One of the biggest fears I’ve always had was disappointing my family. I use this as a way to motivate myself and study hard.”

Unfortunately, not all of Rosado’s friends graduated with him: “I became very frustrated with two of my Hispanic friends who didn’t seem to care about pulling their grades. I slowly distanced myself from them because they were getting into trouble.”

The research/advocacy organization Virginia Kids studies the challenges children face while living in Northern Virginia. Kathy May, director of Virginia Kids, says the organization published a recent report outlining how certain geographic areas “are pockets of poverty where children are at greater risk of becoming pregnant, having food insecurity and dropping out of school.” Virginia Kids included 2010 data by the Virginia Department of Education showing how, region-wide, nearly half of all drop-outs are Hispanic students.

“Some professors have coined a new phrase—‘push out rates,’ because it takes the blame off the kids,” says Mays. “The problem is not a bad kid or behavior issues, it’s a systemic problem. Schools may not fit students

“Those who come to us as teenagers, still learning English, are [at the] greatest risk of dropping out. It takes so much time to catch up, and many have demands to help financially support their families.”

who aren’t the typical suburban white kid.” Virginia Kids’ research revealed kids drop out for different reasons, including: “My family needed me to go to work,” or, “I needed to take care of the little kids at home.” Although most state and federal funding is directed at early intervention—pre-schools, child care or home visits—immigrant children entering school in the upper grades are the most likely to leave school without a diploma.

With limited resources, what should communities do to curtail high school dropouts? Besides mentoring programs, one way is to support funding of the public libraries, says May. “With immigrant kids, libraries are their lifeline to the new world.”

Rachel Harlan is director of Youth Services at Arlington Central Library, which oversees programs for teen parents, volunteer/work experience, summer reading and after-school study programs in six locations, including recreation centers. Recent budget cuts have forced libraries to reduce their hours and services; and in response, libraries now target their programming to support kids who need it the most. Harlan mentions one group specifically: “Those who come to us as teenagers, still learning English, are [at the] greatest risk of dropping out. It takes so much time to catch up, and many have demands to help financially support their families.”

Currently, Rosado serves as the administrator of Facebook’s Hispanic Student Association—a group working to promote positive relationships within the Latino community. When asked what he’d say to a friend dropping out of school, he replies, “If they’re money driven, I tell them staying in school would help them earn more money in the future. I tell them the consequences of not having a high school education will lead to a stressful life.”

(October 2011)

zhu difeng/shutterstock.com (Barrier); J. McPhail/shutterstock.com (Graduate); vectorkat/shutterstock.com (Diploma)

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