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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 

For One Dayton Student, A Long Trip Here (Javier’s Story, Part I)

Javier is a star student in Rick Seither's automotive class at David H. Ponitz Career Technology Center. But he's not sure whether he can go on to college.  latino
Jonathan Platt
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WYSO
Rick Seither's automotive class at David H. Ponitz Career Technology Center.

Inside a huge garage at the David H. Ponitz Career Technology Center, there are ten or so cars in different stages of being fixed, and about a dozen hydraulic lifts. Instructor Rick Seither calls his students over for a mini-lesson.

 

“Why is this clicking?” he asks the group of about a dozen kids. One kid pipes up with answer after answer—that’s Javier, a charming, bespectacled 18-year-old with thick black hair. Javier, whom we’re calling by his middle name to protect his identity, is a straight-A student.  And if it wasn’t for a bumpy freshman year, he says, Javier would have a 4.0 in his overall high school average.

“I was still learning English,” he says. “I would’ve been a 4.0 the whole way.”

 

Javier is a star student at David H. Ponitz Career Technology Center. But he's not sure whether he can continue on to college. latino
Credit Jonathan Platt / WYSO
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WYSO
Javier is a star student at David H. Ponitz Career Technology Center. But he's not sure whether he can continue on to college.

  When he arrived in Dayton in what was to be the middle of his eighth grade year, he could only say “hello” and “good-bye”. His parents had left Ecuador for Dayton years before; he and his little sister stayed behind with their grandmother. But it was never discussed that the kids would leave Ecuador and join their parents.

 

“I told my cousin that I will never go to the U.S.,” Javier shakes his head as he recalls.  “Never, never, never.”

But then things changed.

“One day my mom called and said, ‘Hey, do you want to came to the U.S. with your sister?’ And I was like whoa, are you kidding me? And...somehow we got here.”

That “somehow” included an elaborate network of coyotes, professional smugglers, working together. From Ecuador they flew to Honduras, then spent several days on the road to Mexico City where they stayed with friends of the family for three weeks. In order to cross the border, Javier and his sister were told to “act Mexican”. Two coyotes played the role of mother and father, and they acted as if they were going to shop at an Arizona grocery store. The kids sat in the back with gameboys.

 

“We had to learn their names, we had to learn our names because we had different names,” Javier says. “Oh, and we had to learn the Mexican national anthem. It was nice.”

 

Javier’s laughing as he tells the story, but he was scared.

“These people are being used by everyone,” says Tony Ortiz, Associate Vice President of Latino Affairs at Wright State University. He says he hears stories like this from lots of immigrant families, particularly when he works with families through St. Mary’s Church in Dayton. “The father and the mother, they're trying to do what's best for the whole family. They're coming from conditions where it's not possible for them to survive...but they're coming here and they're being used.”

 

Ortiz says coyote networks make lots of money off of children and adults trying to get across the border, and Javier says his parents paid thousands of dollars to the coyote network for each child. He was one of tens of thousands of minors to cross the border without papers each year.

Their parents had to borrow from friends and spent some time paying off the debt. Javier shrugs. “It took a lot of dedication.”

 

While some parents spend years saving money to pay for their child’s college education, Javier’s parents borrowed money just so the family could be together.

Now, Javier is in the process of figuring out the convoluted college application process for undocumented students. In part two, we'll see how how he navigates that process.

Graduating Latino is WYSO's series on education for Latinos 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.