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Program Links Hispanic Families to Education Resources

The goal of the ENLACE Initiative, a project funded by the philanthropic W.K. Kellogg Foundation, is to support Hispanic students' academic efforts and increase the number of Hispanic students who complete high school and college. ENLACE programs team Hispanic students and their families with resources from the local and academic communities. Included: Tips for supporting the academic achievement of Hispanic students.

Increasing the number of Hispanic students who complete high school and college by linking families to academic and community resources is the goal of the ENLACE Initiative.

The name ENLACE, an acronym for ENgaging LAtino Communities for Education, also has its roots in the Spanish word enlazar, meaning "to link or weave together, to connect in such a way that the new entity is stronger than its parts."

The aptly named initiative -- funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and (in Texas) by Houston Endowment Inc. -- is working to establish and support partnerships among Hispanic-serving institutions. The resulting coalitions, which include colleges and universities, K-12 school districts, communities, and businesses, provide Hispanic students and their families with guidance and support from preschool through college graduation.

ENLACE programs have been set up in 13 school districts in seven states with the highest populations of Latino students -- Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, and Texas.

EDUCATING FOR THE FUTURE

Helping Hispanic youngsters has become a social and economic necessity, according to David Cournoyer, a spokesman for the Kellogg Foundation's Youth and Education program.

While the Hispanic population continues to grow in the United States -- Hispanics are expected to comprise about 20 percent of the workforce by 2025 -- currently only about half of Latino adults have high school diplomas. That could mean a shortage of skilled labor in the future, according to the foundation.

"Clearly, demographic trends show the reason to be interested in students of color," Cournoyer told Education World. "We are working on building a pipeline [to higher education]. The road to college begins early."

A CRITICAL EFFORT

No one factor inhibits Hispanics' performance in school, although a lack of communication between families and teachers plays a role, according to Julio Rodriguez, who in 2001 was director of the Bronx Educational Alliance ENLACE program at Lehman College of the City University of New York. The Bronx ENLACE program now is listed under the The Bronx Institute of Lehman College.

"There can be a schizophrenia between the home and school," Rodriguez said. "Sometimes there is a feeling that what is [done] at school is right and what is wrong is at home."

In addition, compared to some other ethnic groups, many Hispanics also are recent immigrants to this country. "They are still getting their feet on the ground," Rodriguez noted. "There is not really an established network of support for students. That affects expectations and resources."

Critical academic junctures for Hispanic students are the ninth grade -- when many drop out of high school -- and the freshman year of college. "These are very important transition points," Cournoyer told Education World. "Many Latino students don't go beyond the first year of college. We are trying to increase support [in college] so students don't feel like just a Social Security number."

Among the problems Hispanic students face at the start of high school and college are an unfamiliar environment, a decrease in community and family support, and schools that are unprepared to meet their needs, he said.

Some ENLACE programs provide ninth graders with mentors -- upperclassmen or college students -- to help with the transition and act as role models. Others support college preparation through tutoring and mentoring programs, recruitment of Hispanic teachers, and programs that increase family involvement in their children's education, Cournoyer said.

ENLACE reaches out to families in ways they understand. "The concentration on the Latino perspective is useful for bringing Hispanic parents into focus with what the educational system can provide," according to Rodriguez.

TWO PROGRAMS WITH PROMISE

The Bronx ENLACE program, in which 240 seventh graders and their families were enrolled in 2001, complements an existing Gear-Up program. (Gear-Up is a federally funded college-preparatory program for middle-school students.) Among the activities provided are leadership and communication workshops for parents, presentations on Latino art and culture for parents and students, technology activities, and workshops on community involvement.

"If we can get kids involved with things that have an academic base, we are building academic skills and an attitude toward education that is more positive," Rodriguez told Education World. Workshops on Latino art, culture, and literature are an important hook. "We are trying to...[stress] that the Latino experience is very much a part of American culture, so that things that are culturally important are recognized as artistically important."

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California's Santa Ana ENLACE program at Santa Ana College is designed to serve as a conduit for Hispanic students, guiding them from pre-school through college. About 80 percent of the Santa Ana Unified School District enrollment is Hispanic.

"We are linking points along the educational pipeline," said Lilia Tanakeyowma, director of student services/ENLACE at the two-year Santa Ana College. "We have a pre-K program. We are linking elementary school with middle school, middle school with high school, high school with college, and undergraduate to graduate school. We are taking programs with proven success and taking them to scale."

The Santa Ana program is a collaboration of ENLACE staff members, teachers and parents from the Santa Ana school district, and Santa Ana College faculty. Through their combined efforts, the Santa Ana school system has upgraded its mathematics curriculum, requiring all eighth graders to take algebra and providing tutors when necessary. In addition, high school graduation requirements now mirror the requirements for admission to a California state university.

Santa Ana College students serve as tutors and mentors, and parents are recruited to attend workshops and school programs. Each of the district's four high schools is also establishing a higher education center, staffed with counselors who will talk to parents and students about the college application process, Tanakeyowma noted.

"The concept," Tanakeyowma said, "is to prepare all students as if they are going to college."