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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 

As Funding Dries Up, A Rural School District Struggles To Help Latino Kids

Yocelyn Mendoza-Esparza (left) and Emily Espinoza-Lopez are learning English at Park Layne Elementary School in New Carlisle. tecumseh latino
Lewis Wallace
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WYSO
Yocelyn Mendoza-Esparza (left) and Emily Espinoza-Lopez are learning English at Park Layne Elementary School in New Carlisle.

Tecumseh School District, just outside of Springfield, includes the tiny towns of New Carlisle and Medway—and a whole lot of farm fields and two-lane highways.

“This is a cow,” says English paraprofessional Liz Toro. She’s giving two little girls at Park Layne Elementary their daily English lesson. “What sound does a cow make?” she says, pointing at a picture of a cow. “Moo! Yes.”

There are more than 60 English language learners here—Toro and another English aide see each of them for about a half hour a day, in small groups. She says when the kids go to take standardized tests, something as simple as a reference to a cow could get lost, because the kid knows what a cow is, but doesn’t know the English word.

“Many of them miss that because they don’t know the language,” she says. Toro thinks the kids could use more books, and more classroom time and space to learn English—but she's aware that funding is limited.

Liz Toro is the English as a second language paraprofessional at Park Layne in the Tecumseh School District. latino
Credit Lewis Wallace / WYSO
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WYSO
Liz Toro is the English as a second language paraprofessional at Park Layne in the Tecumseh School District.

Almost ten percent of the students here are learning English; most of their families are from Mexico, as this area has drawn migrant field workers for decades.

Interim Superintendent Paula Crew says they try to start kids’ English early, because it does take time to catch up.

“If I’m a kindergartner and I come in not having any English in my repertoire, five to seven years later I might be considered extremely proficient,” she says. The district focuses resources on the younger kids.

But in the past, language teachers here were paid with federal money that’s specifically for children of migrant workers who move seasonally. Now, there are less seasonal workers—Crew says a lot of people are working at local nurseries and sticking around.

Tecumseh is a rural school district that includes the towns of Medway and New Carlisle.  latino ed
Credit Lewis Wallace / WYSO
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WYSO
Tecumseh is a rural school district that includes the towns of Medway and New Carlisle.

“Those who come to work at the nurseries here we’re finding are buying, or renting permanent housing, and staying here all year long.”

That change means cuts to the those federal funds. The district puts more of its limited resources towards the younger kids, and by the time they get to high school, there’s a lot less support.

Diana Hobbs works with Family and Youth Initiatives, a local non-profit that sometimes teaches in Tecumseh schools—they are also trying to figure out how best to support Latino kids, and hoping to get funding to have Spanish speakers in their pre-K program. She says during a recent visit to the high school, she noticed two kids in the back of the class talking incessantly.

“I’m like, guys, I need you to pay attention to what I’m saying,” she says. She thought they were just messing around, until she realized—they were translating. “One translated for the other, because he didn’t speak any English.”

Pat Banascak is the director of Family and Youth Initiatives. She says they, too, are struggling to provide resources for Latino kids, especially those still learning English.
Credit Lewis Wallace / WYSO
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WYSO
Pat Banascak is the director of Family and Youth Initiatives. She says they, too, are struggling to provide resources for Latino kids, especially those still learning English.

And it’s possible to be in high school here—and not learn English. Kids simply fall through the cracks: there’s no after school program, no tutoring, no summer school geared towards older students who don’t speak English. The graduation rate for Latino students here is at 75 percent, compared to 90 percent for white students.

Pat Banascak, the director of Family and Youth Initiatives, says that disparity is not just about language, but also economics.

“A lot of our Hispanic children still have to go out in the fields after school, and work ‘til dark and then they’re expected to do three or four hours of homework after that, and still be awake when they go to school the next morning,” she says. The last few years have been especially tough. “This area was hit hard with the recession that we had a few years ago, and it really and truly has not come back yet.”

For some, the most obvious option ends up being to drop out, and work to support their families. The schools themselves might not be able to change that.

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.