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WYSO's Lewis Wallace interviewing Trotwood-Madison High School teacher Alicia Pagan.00000173-90ba-d20e-a9f3-93ba72ce0000Graduating Latino is WYSO's series on education for Latino students in the Miami Valley, produced in partnership with Think TV. It's part of the public media initiative American Graduate, which is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.In much of the Miami Valley the Latino population has gone from about 2 percent in the mid-2000s, to 4 percent now. Around half the local Latino population is from Mexico, which means the other half represent a big cross-section: many Puerto Ricans, and people from Central and South America. The population is a mix of foreign-born and U.S.-born representing a diverse set of experiences.The launching point for this series is a persistent disparity in high school graduation rates between white and Latino students. In 2012 the graduation rate for white students in Ohio was 86 percent; for Latinos, it was 68, and for Black students it was 61 percent. Those racial and ethnic disparities also exist nationally, but the white/Hispanic disparity is much wider in Ohio than in the nation.Some local districts, especially Dayton, are looking at low graduation rates across the board. Latino kids fall through the cracks, but they’re not the only ones.The good news is, dropout rates in this country have been falling for decades now—for all students, and for Latinos especially. The percentage of Latino high schoolers to drop out completely went from 40 percent in 1972 to 15 percent in 2012. In the process of reporting these series we’ve met a lot of kids who are doing great, graduating and going to college. We also found that many of the kids who do drop out or don’t graduate on time are dealing with the same issues: the need to support their families, a belief that they can’t go on to college, or overwhelming life circumstances.The stories will range from preschool and kindergarten readiness to bilingual education to personal profiles of people dealing with not having legal status while trying to go to school. We’ll also hear about positive programs like El Puente in the Twin Towers neighborhood, Springfield’s Hispanic Outreach Program and a group of Puerto Rican Engineers working to mentor kids. We’ll visit high schools in Dayton and Trotwood. It’s by no means comprehensive, but we hope it will show a slice of what’s going on in this rich and diverse community.Look for stories from our whole news team from April 13-24 in our weekday news shows, Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as online every day. You can also access local stories from WYSO through your smartphone on wyso.org or through the free app NPROne.00000173-90ba-d20e-a9f3-93ba72cf0001

Local Groups Work Toward Kindergarten Readiness For Latino Students

Lead Teacher, Amanda Looney (Left), fellow teachers, and kids gather at Twin Towers Head Start to eat lunch.
Jerry Kenney
Lead Teacher, Amanda Looney (Left), fellow teachers, and kids gather at Twin Towers Head Start to eat lunch.

It’s pretty much accepted by education researchers that preschool attendance has positive long term effects—people who go to preschool are more likely to be successful in K-12 education and to adapt socially to being around other kids. Yet, preschool numbers for Latino kids nationally and in Ohio are lower than other ethnic groups. 

The Educational Track

The Center for American Progress finds 63 percent of Latino kids age three and four don't attend preschool, and Dawn Wallace-Pascoe with Children’s Defense Fund, Ohio (CDF) says, when it comes to education, “we’re not doing enough to get children of color, both Blacks and Latino Children on track educationally.”

Getting on track early means being kindergarten ready. But, according to a Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation around 41 percent of economically disadvantaged Latino kids in Ohio aren't coming in ready for Kindergarten. The numbers also aren’t great for Black children at 29 percent. For Asian children, the number is 21% Asians and for white children, 16 percent aren’t kindergarten-ready.

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Credit Children's Defense Fund-Ohio

Wallace-Pascoe says starting out unprepared has long-term effects. 

“Children who don’t meet benchmarks, such as Third Grade Reading are less likely to graduate high school, which then also has long term effects on health, their ability to find good jobs and a whole host of things that you don’t necessarily think of when you’re thinking about sending your child to preschool.”

Getting Kids 'Kindergarten Ready'

One place helping young children get on track early is the Twin Towers Head Start classroom in Dayton, part of the Miami Valley Childhood Development Centers. At lunchtime on any given weekday, around a dozen children and their teachers can be found sitting at low-set tables talking about fun stuff - mornings and afternoons are filled with physical and educational play activities.
 
The kids here come from lots of different backgrounds, and Amanda Looney says she felt intimidated when she first started teaching here.

“I walked into the classroom and a lot of the students didn’t speak English as a first language. I had a lot of Turkish and Spanish and Arabic, and maybe just a handful of English speaking students.”

But Looney says the children made her feel at ease—she learned how quickly little kids pick up on language.  “It’s really interesting to see them all blend together, and you’ll see the Turkish students learn to speak Spanish so they can play with their Latino friends.”

Assistant bilingual teacher, Nery Millan, says language is really important in early education.

“Me being bilingual—Spanish speaking only at home when I was young—there was no one there to help me with homework or anything.  My Mom, my dad didn’t know any English.”

El Puente tutor, Shanel Melendez helps young student to sound out words as they read together.
Credit El Puente Education Center
El Puente tutor, Shanel Melendez helps young student to sound out words as they read together.

Now Millan is passionate about helping others in similar situations.

“I love it, I love it. I love to help out children. I love knowing that their parents know that there’s someone here who speaks their language, that can help them out when they need it and teach them English.”

Bridging The Gap

Language and cultural barriers can follow Latino students throughout their K-12 education. That's where organizations like El Puente Educational Center in Dayton come in. Alyssa Wagner is the program director for the after school language tutoring program for Kindergarten through 6th grade.

“El Puente in English means 'the bridge' and that really is our mission," she says. "To be kind of that connecting point between American culture and Latino culture, and help to bridge the differences and connect schools and families together.”

El Puente board member Richele O'Connor grabs students' attention with her spirited reading.
Credit El Puente Education Center
El Puente board member Richele O'Connor grabs students' attention with her spirited reading.

Wagner says there are a number of reasons Latino children might not go to preschool including, "parents having to work full-time and preschool mostly being offered for half-day, for that cultural aspect of my kids too ‘chaquito,’ they're too little, too small to leave the home."

She adds that a lot of it may be access to preschools geared to help Latino children, or parents "don't know how important it is."

El Puente and other community groups are trying to get the word out about early education for Latinos, but Wagner admits they have a long way to go.

Graduating Latino is WYSO's series on education for Latino students in the Miami Valley, produced in partnership with Think TV. It's part of the public media initiative American Graduate, which is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.