Summit aims to help Hispanic students

ROCHESTER — A summit gathering about improving the education of Latino students is being planned for early 2011.

The summit is a response to results of a study conducted by the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education and commissioned by the Ibero-American Action League. Its purpose will be "to really start putting together an action plan … to make sure that our kids are being successful in school," said Hilda Rosario-Escher, Ibero’s president and chief executive officer.

"The problems that (students) face in the city school district can no longer wait," she added.

One of the study’s key findings was that students who had mentors through community and school-based programs and who received information about and exposure to college campuses were more successful. Such programs not only offered support but also a safe haven from problems either at school or at home, according to the study results, which can be found at www.iaal.org/index_5_2848874851.pdf.

The summit will bring together a group of educators and community members to dissect those findings and develop new programs or expand on existing programs that will have a positive impact on Latino students, said Melisza Campos, who is organizing the summit along with fellow school board member José Cruz. He was recently named the board’s vice president.

An important step in this planning process will be providing additional support to Latino students as new programs are being created, she noted, "for those kids that may not be able to take advantage of the things that will happen."

The goal is to conduct the summit in January or February, said Campos.

Another finding from the study was that violence is prevalent among Latina girls, according to information from the lead investigators — UR professors Judy Márquez Kiyama and Donna Harris, who presented their initial findings in October. They are now working with a small focus group to delve more deeply into the issue of Latina violence, which took the research team by surprise, said Márquez Kiyama.

During a Warner School symposium in November on the subject of adolescent girls in urban schools, Harris said that Latina girls find themselves battling racial and ethnic tensions as they try to earn "respect" from their peers and adults. They commonly find themselves in situations in which trouble can ensue if they speak Spanish in front of students who only speak English, she explained.

"They maintain a tough persona in order to survive," she said.

In some families, the girls must maintain an "honor" code that has been passed down from generation to generation, she said.

Such observations came from focus groups with 54 girls. In the follow-up study, the research team will have more in-depth conversations with about 15 girls, Márquez Kiyama explained.

Resolving this pattern of violence is important because of its "implications for (Latinas’) future educational opportunities, progressing through school and higher educational opportunities," she said.

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