The high school dropout rate among Orange County's 81,000 Latino students is alarming. In some high schools, it's as high as 50%.
Why do these students leave school? Some people might think the answer is lack of willingness to work or disinterest, but that isn't true. They drop out to make money for the family or become parents themselves. They're pushed out because school doesn't seem meaningful or because they can't perceive themselves as valued members of mainstream society.
What does this predict for the county's social and economic future? It means that a large percentage of the Latino population will not develop the skills necessary to expand their range of opportunities in the job market, perpetuating low self-esteem, stereotypes and a larger population of second-class citizens.
More important, it means that Latino teen-agers will never reach their full potential to become successful role models for their own children. It's a classic case of not being able to stop the roller coaster.
In a report called "School Dropouts in Orange County: Focus on Hispanic Students," published by Pacific Bell, the Orange County Human Relations Commission and the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ) make 19 recommendations to reduce the dropout rate and slow down the roller coaster.
These recommendations include new programs for early identification of "at-risk" students, alternative curriculums, smaller classroom sizes, information about human reproduction and family life starting in kindergarten, strengthening of parent-school relationships and expanded teen-mother programs.
The Human Relations Commission and NCCJ call upon the county's policy-makers to implement these recommendations wherever possible or reshape them to work within effective dropout intervention programs already in place. The commitment to keep Latino students in school is already strong. These recommendations are simply new tools to keep the momentum going.
Chair, Education Committee
Human Relations Commission