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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

From Crossing The Border To Applying for College (Javier's Story, Part II)

Javier meets with an immigration lawyer to find out what his options are for going to college. latino
Jonathan Platt
Javier meets with an immigration lawyer to find out what his options are for going to college.

Outside Javier’s house in Twin Towers, we’re looking under the hood of my car, a ‘98 Camry. He teaches me the difference between a line-4 and a V-4 engine—I’m just concerned about whether my car is okay at this point.

“It looks pretty nice, yeah,” says Javier. Maybe he’s just being polite.

Javier is a straight-A student specializing in auto repair at David H. Ponitz Career Academy. Histrip from Ecuador five years ago involved pretending to be part of a Mexican family in order to get smuggled across the border (click herefor part I of his story on WYSO). His parents spent thousands of dollars to get him and his sister here. Now, he’s a senior in high school, and he desperately wants to go on to Sinclair Community College.

None of his family has legal status, so we’re only using his middle name because we don’t want this story to put him in jeopardy.

Javier's been watching his fellow classmates, who have lower GPAs, get scholarships to community colleges. But Javier hasn’t even applied.

“It's frustrating,” he says. “My counselor she been telling about colleges and all that and I been telling her I don't have a social security number. It was the first thing they ask when I fill out the application. It's been frustrating to me.”

Every time Javier fills out an application, he is asked for his social security number—and he doesn’t have one. He’s not sure what to do, and neither are his school counselors or teachers.

A lot of people don’t know what to do. According to the Immigration Policy Center, less than one in ten undocumented students that graduate from American high schools go on to college. And one of the main reasons for why 90 percent of these students don't go to college: lack of information.

So, can undocumented students apply to college? Dayton Immigration lawyer, Bahjat Abdallah, says the answer is generally yes.

“If you apply and they say no, then they say no,” he says. “You're not committing fraud or perjury. You’re not making stuff up and you are not using fake information.”

It's ultimately up to the colleges how they deal with students like Javier. Many end up paying international tuition.

Abdallah says a lot of people don’t know the process—in most places, including Ohio, you are free to apply, it’s just scholarships and financial aid that can be difficult without legal status. A handful of states, such as Georgia, don’t allow undocumented students to attend state schools.

The first time we meet, Abdallah offers to give free advice to Javier. I set up the meeting—it’s worth noting that this meeting probablywouldn’t have happened if I hadn’tset it up. Abdallah tells Javier anyone can go on-line, register to pay their taxes, and receive a nine-digit tax ID number. Turns out, Javier already has one—his mother gave him one but he doesn’t know how she got it.  

Abdallah says that’s a common situation, and a lot of people just use that number to pay taxes, or to fill out applications. Abdallah advises Javier to apply, and just be  forthcoming. “Here I am, here are my grades, here is my name, here is my number. If I am in, I am in. If I am out, I am out.”

It's ultimately up to the colleges how they deal with students like Javier—many end up paying international tuition.

Javier just never realized this was possible, and nobody knew to tell him.

Financial aid is a different question: without a social security number, you can’t get federal or state aid. In some states, people who have registered for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) are at least eligible for in-state tuition. Javier doesn’t qualify for the original DACA, and the more recent expansion of that policy has been placed on hold by the courts.

Now Javier plans to apply to college, and just try to find the money.

Back at Ponitz high school, I ask Javier's favorite teacher, Rick Seither, automotive mechanics instructor, what Javier's future looks like.

“I would hope that a shop would pick him up, because if I had my own shop I would hire him,” Seither says.

I tell Seither that Javier doesn’t have a social security number so he can’t work legally.

“That would be a problem,” Seither says. As a student, however, Seither says,  “He’s ‘A’ all the way.  I wish I had a classroom full of him.”


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.


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