Closing the achievement gap for Hispanic students in the Carolinas

To get to the stage where you can apply, though, you’ve got to have the grades. There’s a lot of concern about that right now.
It's Hispanic Heritage Month, and WBTV is looking at how Hispanic organizations are trying to close the education gaps.
Published: Oct. 5, 2021 at 6:11 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - It’s that time of year when anxiety can start to rise for high school seniors and their parents. It’s time to start getting those college applications ready.

To get to the stage where you can apply, though, you’ve got to have the grades. There’s a lot of concern about that right now.

End-of-Grade results from last school year show just 28.5% of 3rd to 8th graders in CMS were college and career ready in reading. Before the pandemic, it was 44%.

The numbers are even starker when it comes to our Hispanic children. Just 15% are ready. That’s down from 29% pre-pandemic.

Liz Sturgill says it hurts to hear.

“It’s one of those things that we already knew that there was an achievement gap, and now it’s even further,” she says, “It’s certainly disheartening. There’s no other words other than it hurts my heart.”

This is Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s month to highlight the achievements and contributions of Hispanic Americans. Liz is one of them.

Her parents immigrated to the U-S from Ecuador back in the 1970′s. In 2004, she graduated from Olympic High School. Then, she went on UNC Chapel Hill to major in Sociology.

Jamie: Was college always something that was the goal for you?

Liz: Oh, absolutely. I think that myself and a lot of folks in my community, specifically the Latino community, that is always the goal, right? A lot of parents have come to this country, my family, in particular, with the dream that we’re going to make sure that our kids are educated and that they become professionals. That’s always been something that’s instilled. It’s definitely something that a lot of students hear. I know this because now I read scholarship applications that say, ‘I’m here to help my family, my family has sacrificed so much’. The avenue that they see to get there is to go to college and then move on to become professionals.

Jamie: Were there barriers you faced to try to bust through this, to make sure that you could get into a good university and continue your education?

Liz: I think the ultimate barrier that I see is that you can have all the encouragement in the world, right? Your family will tell you we’re going to do everything to support you, ‘I’m going to work two, three jobs to make sure that you don’t have to worry about anything other than staying focused’. While we’re all grateful for that, you don’t know how to navigate the scholarship space, the college application path, what FAFSA means, AP classes - the things that you don’t necessarily have knowledge of like other students that perhaps did have parents or other generations that went to college.

That is where Latin Americans Working for Achievement -- LAWA -- comes in. The organization has been around since 1992. They partner with high schools, colleges and universities. They work to get kids through high school and then onto post-secondary education.

Liz got a LAWA scholarship back in 2004. Over the years the organization has given out almost 300 of them, totaling more than $1 million. Ana Rey is the organization’s Executive Director.

Ana: Some of our communities need more money than others. For the Latino population, we’ve seen statistically that they still are lagging on going to college and also graduating from college. Some of these factors are financial, so that’s where we’re coming in.

Jamie: Kids who are first time, you’re going to a college, how difficult of a hurdle is that for a lot of these families?

Ana: So, some of the hurdles are realistic, and some of the hurdles are something that you think about. So a real hurdle or physical hurdle, I would say, it’s financially tight. But then there are other hurdles of, ‘Oh, I cannot apply. Or they don’t want me to be part of the organization, that university or it’s too difficult for me to apply’. So we bring in the teachers, we bring in the administrators, and give them an idea of what it is to go to college. One very simple thing that we do, we actually showcase the application. We’ve seen clicks on people, not only students, but also their parents when they see the application, and they say, ‘Oh, I can fill that out. That’s information that you and I have. So yes, I can apply to college.’

Jamie: When you’ve seen some of these recent reports that have come out because of the pandemic, the slide, and the brown and Black students and the achievement gaps that we’re seeing - how did you react to that news?

Ana: I’m not surprised. It makes my job and the organization much stronger to think that we are needed and that we need to continue getting the support of the community. Not only sponsors, but also from volunteers and our board to help those that are still lacking and the support and the money and the effort sometimes.

Jamie: When we talk about this community, obviously a lot is about upward mobility and the struggles there. How important are programs like yours to tackling that problem?

Ana: Well, we like to think that what we are doing in LAWA with both of our programs - the youth scholarships, and high school series - we are advancing their lives. That’s what our mission is, right? We’re advancing the lives of Latinos in the Charlotte region.

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