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A Call to `Set the Bar High' for Latino Students

Santa Ana symposium stresses broad support structures to get more youths into college.

September 22, 2006|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

For Latino students to succeed in school and advance to college, teachers, parents and community leaders must work together to encourage students, including reading to toddlers and offering rigorous classes in high schools, policymakers said Thursday at a conference on education in Santa Ana.

"We must continue to set the bar high for Hispanic students. We know they can meet it," said Elizabeth Casas Ray, director of Hispanic communications and outreach for the U.S. Department of Education.

The three-day conference, presented by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, attracted scores of educators, volunteers and concerned community members from Orange County and across the nation.

The focus of the meeting was to help Latino children across the nation break down societal and cultural barriers to academic achievement, including increasing family involvement and eliminating the achievement gap with their classmates.

The initiative was created by President Bush in 2001, in part because Latino students struggle compared with their white and Asian classmates. One in three Latinos doesn't complete high school, according to 2003 U.S. Census Bureau data.

In California, Latinos make up nearly 48% of the student body and 54% of the state's drop-outs.

"The high dropout rate is something we cannot ignore," said Darla Marburger, deputy assistant secretary of the Department of Education.

Of the students who graduate from high school, significantly fewer go on to higher education than their white and Asian peers -- 3.6% of the nation's undergrads at four-year institutions are Latino, according to Rafael Magallan, director of state services for the College Board, the nonprofit organization that administers the SAT and AP tests.

College graduates earn far more than those who hold only a high school diploma, and the ever-increasing importance of technology means that even some factory jobs require a college education, said Ray Mellado, president of the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corp.

Many students are unaware that they may be eligible for financial aid, grants or scholarships. Also, many parents are unfamiliar with the college application process, in part because they have not gone to college themselves. Overwhelmed guidance counselors, some of whom have several hundred students, also have a difficult time providing sufficient assistance, said Hazel Mingo, who specializes in federal grants, loans and work-study opportunities for the Office of Federal Student Aid.

Mingo said lack of awareness meant students who are eligible for financial assistance are not receiving it. "The families are simply not getting the information," she said. Parents must be more involved in their children's educations and students need to seek out more rigorous courses, the speakers said. States and school districts also must ensure that all students have access to high-level courses, qualified teachers and strong counseling support, participants said.

"Our Hispanic students are just as talented, just as capable, have just as bright a future," Marburger said.

The initiative also unveiled a tool kit for Latino families, available in English and Spanish, with advice on topics such as teaching children how to read and the kinds of courses students should take in high school.

seema.mehta@latimes.com

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The conference, which is open to the public, continues today at Delhi Community Center in Santa Ana, with panels on early childhood development and No Child Left Behind, a town hall about community partnerships and an address by U.S. Treasurer Anna Escobedo Cabral.

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