Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Hispanic graduates of Nashville high schools celebrate against the odds

Committee of Latino Parents highlights achievements of 200 students

Graduation rate the lowest among five racial and ethnic groups

"Not everyone wants you to succeed because you're Hispanic"

Lipscomb announces grants up to $22,000 for entering freshmen

The Tennessean reported here on last Saturday's graduation celebration for Hispanic students in an event hosted by the Comité de Padres Latinos (COPLA), [Committee of Latino Parents], a parents group focusing on communication with MNPS Latino parents. According to Metro Nashville Public Schools, more than 200 Hispanic students who graduated from high school this year were honored, along with their parents. The event was held at the Allen Arena of Lipscomb University, which announced at the event that it will offer grants of "up to $22,000 per student over a four-year period to Latino students who meet the university’s admissions criteria."

According to the Tennessean, "[d]uring the 2006-07 school year, 57.7 percent of eligible Hispanic students in Metro graduated high school, the lowest percentage among five racial and ethnic groups, including African-Americans and whites, district figures show. The school system's overall graduation rate last year was 70 percent."

Also, according to the Tennessean, "[i]n the last five years, the number of Hispanic students attending Metro schools nearly doubled, from 7.8 percent in 2003 to 13.3 percent last year."

The Tennessean quoted Overton grad Juan Camarena about his record after living in the U.S. for only three years:
"I consider it to be an achievement to be Hispanic and graduate with a 3.98 GPA. I moved here three years ago," he said.

"It was hard, coming here with a struggle of leaving your country and getting adapted to a new culture. This is the land of dreams. I came here to find my interpretation of the American Dream."
Also quoted was Thriane "Triana" Lopez of Glencliff:
"Sometimes you feel like it's hard to graduate because not everyone wants you to succeed because you're Hispanic. I see it all the time."
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From Metro Nashville Public Schools:
The community stakeholders working with COPLA for this year’s event included the Nashville Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Lipscomb University, Harding Place Family YMCA-Hispanic Achievers, Conexión Américas, Prevent Child Abuse of Middle Tennessee, Spanish-TV, Tennessee Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and other community organizations.

Guest speakers were Mayor Karl Dean, attorney Gregg Ramos, Pastor Tommy Vallejos and others.

A reception was held following the ceremony, with food provided by members of the Nashville Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and live entertainment by Son Latino and Maria Benham.

COPLA was organized two years ago to help build relationships with the parents of Hispanic students, who comprise more than 14% of the district’s student population. The organization meets monthly to share information and resources available to Spanish-speaking families, as well as develop ways to educate families on the important role of parental involvement in student success.
From Lipscomb University:
Lipscomb University will begin offering grants of up to $22,000 per student over a four-year period to Latino students who meet the university’s admissions criteria, Lipscomb President L. Randolph Lowry announced Saturday at the Comité de Padres Latinos (Committee of Latino Parents or COPLA) Hispanic Student Graduation Celebration held in Allen Arena.

“The Latino population in our region is growing daily and more than 26,000 Latino students are already enrolled in the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools alone. Access to the best higher education opportunities is vital to the success of the Latino community and our region, and Lipscomb is pleased to take the lead in providing that access,” Lowry said.

The Hispanic Achievers University Grants program is the second initiative Lipscomb has established this year to reach out to Latino students. In the spring the university established the Saint Thomas Health Services Nursing Advantage Scholarships for Hispanic nursing students.

More than 14 percent of Nashville’s public school students are Latino, and according to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce’s 2008 Workforce Study, 83 percent of new Hispanic residents arriving in Nashville between 2000 and 2006 were either prime working age adults (25-44) or children under age 14.

So the city has a large population of strong, motivated Latino students and potential students who one day will become valuable employees and leaders in the community. But a great many of these students do not make it to college due to their financial situation and cultural upbringing. A survey of local colleges listed on www.collegeboard.com found only one local college with a Hispanic student population above 3 percent.

“Lipscomb University has established the new Hispanic Achievers grants to let these students know they are welcome at Lipscomb and we want to help them achieve their dream of a college education,” Lowry said.

Admissions criteria for Lipscomb freshman are a grade point average of 2.5 or better, an ACT score of 21 or higher (or equivalent on the SAT) and strong educational and personal references.

“We have honor roll students and National Honor Society students in our program who sit in our office crying because they can’t go to college,” said Jessie Garcia Van De Griek, director of the Hispanic Achievers program at the Harding Place Family YMCA. Hispanic Achievers helps middle and high school students to develop leadership skills and prepares them for college through school clubs, tutoring and one-on-one assistance in applying for college.

“For Lipscomb to come in and tell these students ‘We are going to join arms with you and make this dream happen’ gives us such a rush of happiness because we can now give our students something tangible to inspire hope. We can tell them that this grant can help make a future education possible.”

According to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission 2007-08 Fact Book, the Latino student population in Tennessee’s public colleges has increased by 1,599 students (or 74.2 percent) from 1997 to 2007. But Latinos still make up a very small percentage, less than 7 percent, of the student population at public universities.

Van De Griek says her program has about 40 students this year who have applied to local colleges including Lipscomb University.

“COPLA understands education is the key for our young people to succeed,” said Ernestina Gonzalez, chair of COPLA, a parents group focusing on communication between the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and Latino parents. “For this reason, we are extremely happy that prestigious universities such as Lipscomb support the talent of our Hispanic students. On behalf of the Hispanic community in Davidson County, COPLA is very grateful for this support.”

Low incomes and lack of knowledge about the college admissions process and available scholarships are the biggest obstacles to Latino students entering college, Van De Griek said. “We spend a lot of time researching scholarships across the country that our students are eligible for. Nationwide there is $30 million in scholarship funds designated for minority students, but much of it goes unclaimed because students don’t know it is available,” she said.

By announcing the new Hispanic Achievers grants at the COPLA event, Lipscomb hoped to boost awareness of this new opportunity among Nashville students and to change their mentality to a college-bound mindset, said Lipscomb’s Director of Admissions Ricky Holaway, who has worked with the YMCA’s Hispanic Achievers program to enroll students.

“This lack of awareness has been a major obstacle for many low-income families in the Latino population,” said Wendy Chavira, researcher and associate director of operations at the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, which compiles a directory of scholarships for Latino students. “Students need the drive to apply for each scholarship opportunity, because there's not one form to fill out. Each scholarship has its own application. But the effort is well worth it.”

For those interested in applying for the Hispanic Achievers University Grants, contact the Lipscomb University Admissions Office at 615.966.1000 or log on to www.golipscomb.com.
Hat Tip: Fabian Bedne

Photo by Charline. Licensed under Creative Commons.

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