Latino Education: The Leadership Challenge of the Next Decade

It’s common knowledge by now; the Hispanic population is rapidly increasing in the Southwest region of the United States. Within in the next decade many states will join the state of New Mexico, the first state to boast a majority Hispanic population. We are beyond counting numbers, what’s emerging before us is evident to all. The Latino population is quickly overtaking many school districts, which are inept to deal with specific issues plaguing Hispanics, especially among the children of immigrants. If our educational system is ineffective in delivering education to this group, what will happen within the next decade when the Hispanic population is projected to overtake the system? Giselle Fernandez’ recent Huffington Post article dubbed The Latino Education Imperative opens our eyes to this dilemma:

The stats say it all and cast the same frightening projection: By 2020, Latinos are expected to represent close to 25 percent of the country’s 18-to-29-year-old population. In ten years, nearly ten million Latinos will be 15 to 24 years of age, accounting for nearly a quarter of the total US college-age population.”

These facts are cause for great concern among us. So what are Latino community leaders doing about it? Facing the facts is not easy, especially for many school districts where the student population is shifting to reflect more of a diverse demographic, more so than a decade ago. What educators design and deliver within the next decade will decide America’s future for the next fifty years. So what quality of life and culture will our children inhabit? Will Latinos be an undereducated and dependent class or an enlightened and competitive one in the ever-changing global markets?

The educational system cries out for more money to improve education. This has been the cry for the past 30 years plus, and we’ve seen no national measurable results to justify more. We can no longer wait for problems to arise then counter them with ineffective measures. We must take a proactive, and at times an unpopular stance, to effect change and correct the current system. Therefore, we don’t need managers of old systems, what we desperately need is more innovative leaders to advocate, experiment and introduce new systems of learning. A starting point is drawn from California’s Monterey County whose Hispanic student population is listed at 73%, while Soledad Union School District Hispanic population lists at 94%. Most school districts similar to Monterey’s are quickly making changes to their educational delivery systems to meet this growing trend by adapting their curriculum and hiring more bi-lingual teachers to talk to and orient parents to how their child’s educational system works.

What role should Latinos and others play in our educational system? At this point a desperate one! We need to summon not just the educational leaders together but leaders from the various genres of culture. We need the faith and business communities to step up, and collaborate to create innovative strategies for new educational systems. I’ve always been an advocate for creating learning centers in faith-based organizations who employ educated staff with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Many immigrants and their children attend church faithfully each week. Why not create learning and tutoring centers at these locations? Immigrants have tremendous respect and trust in their faith leaders, and would follow their vision of education. A connection and dialogue with the faith community wouldn’t hurt education but perhaps add wisdom to the current strategy. In addition, business establishments can also add to learning by inspiring their best employees to give their time and talent to local educational centers to mentor, inspire and tutor marginal students. The business community can also create learning centers with an internship program to teach workforce principles. In my experience, Hispanics are more prone to “hands-on” learning; therefore, an interactive approach to learning can enhance their learning experience. Education in the future must seek community oriented solutions rather than the centralized-status-quo mindset that currently exists.

What are your solutions to the emerging Latino educational crises in America?


Provoked to Higher Education

As a young man I remember waking up early on the weekends and summer break to work in the peach fields in the futile crescent of Northern California for my father, who happened to be the field boss for a local fruit packing company. I despised this early morning routine and remember saying to myself, “I never do these kinds of jobs when I grow up!” My parents who would often say to my siblings and I, “If you don’t get your education, you will be doing these jobs all your life” reinforced my exact sentiments. Sure enough, it didn’t take much to motivate me to attend school; numb hands in the winter months and a parched mouth in the summer heat were enough to motivate me to attend college. At least I did not have to wake up to, “Muchachos, es hora – levantensen! Vamonos a trabajar!” (Young men, it’s time – get up! Let’s go to work!). At first, those words bothered me as a young Latino male, but today they inspire me.

College did not come easy for me but I persevered through writing labs and papers, preparing speeches and speaking in front of large classes, and learning to say “no” to my friends in the moment so I could say “hello” to my future. Today, my four brothers, sister and I possess Bachelor’s degrees, while some of us have earned Master’s degrees. I owe a debt of gratitude to my father and mother; the visionary immigrants from Mexico. From this experience, I have some advice to impart to young Latinos – wisdom calls out from many places, are you listening? Don’t stall your education for a few moments of pleasure. Life is too short, then you wake up one day with regret on your mind – “Man, I should’ve gone to college!”

I acquired my Bachelor’s degree 7 years out from graduating from High School. And in May of 2009, I received my Master’s degree from Regent University in Organizational Leadership, with an emphasis in mentoring and coaching. And, as soon as I pay off my student loans, my dream is to attend Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California for my Doctorate.

What’s your story? Are you part of the 12% of Latinos who possess a four year degree?