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Hispanic Students Need Business People To Speak Up

Hispanics: Redistricting Will Steal Our Vote Power

Help For Hispanic Students? Don't Bother Asking

Hispanic Students Need Business People To Speak Up

by Myriam Marquez

September 6, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

Underpaid and overworked, dozens of Central Florida teachers spent their day off looking for ways to help Hispanic students thrive in school.

After hearing from state education officials and community activists, the teachers at the Latino Educators Forum met at Orlando City Hall on a recent Saturday to hammer out an agenda. Two themes emerged:

1) No matter how good a teacher is, if there's little support from the school principal, students will be the losers.

Let me add, too, that sometimes it's not the principal's fault. I've known several cases involving Hispanic principals who have been pushed out the schoolhouse door by district administrators who tied those principals' hands and set them up for failure. There are academic war stories and bodies to prove the point from Kissimmee to Orlando to Sanford.

2) Hispanic business people and civic organizations must do more to help students -- either by mentoring a child one-on-one or taking time out to speak to a classroom of students and share their success stories. What kids at risk of dropping out of school need are mentors who have pulled themselves up from the worst conditions.

This is basic stuff. So why isn't more happening to help Hispanic kids, who are dropping out of school in huge numbers?

Are we Hispanics congenitally dumb?

It's a provocative question, but perhaps provocation is all we have left after years of trying to break down barriers.

Rosalie Reyes, a Colonial High School assistant principal and president of the Hispanic Coalition for Educational Excellence, said many Hispanic students who fail in school speak fluent English, so there's no language barrier. "What's going on in their lives, then?" she asked.

And what can we as a community do to get them to hit the books?

Today the business community will get a chance to answer that question. The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida is hosting an education forum in an effort to get more Hispanic professionals and business people to become mentors or tutors for students.

There are many worthy organizations helping students, including the Orlando-Orange County Compact, which focuses on kids of all races and ethnicities who are at risk of dropping out of school, and a YMCA program for Hispanic youth that's modeled after the Black Achievers program.

Rolando Cintron, who started the Hispanic Community Development Corporation of Central Florida, hopes to bring one of the oldest dropout prevention programs started by a Puerto Rican educator in New York: ASPIRA, which means to aspire.

ASPIRA has a solid track record, particularly because it starts in middle school. There are 275,000 ASPIRA alumni throughout the country, including actor Jimmy Smits.

Meanwhile, Reyes' coalition, which includes educators up to the university level, has been working on an in-depth study for almost a year now to find what's hindering progress for Hispanic students and how to turn around an abysmal dropout rate.

We know some of the reasons kids need help. One is the high mobility rate among Hispanic children whose cash-strapped parents move often. The adjustment at a new school can take its toll on kids' academic performance. Consider that Central Florida's Hispanics are predominantly young, working families.

About 55 percent of Orlando's Hispanic households earn $40,000 a year or more, but another 17 percent are poor. Another problem is a lack of supervision after school because parents are working. Undereducated parents also can become frustrated and unable to help their children with homework assignments.

Granted, such problems can affect children of any race or ethnic background. But when there are too few Hispanics teaching or running schools -- as happens here -- there can be a cultural disconnect about how best to help Latino kids get ahead.

Thanks to civil-rights laws and court orders that pushed school systems to stop discriminating against blacks, the percentage of African-American teachers, principals and district administrators is in the double digits today in some districts.

Yet Hispanics, who make up about one in four students in Orange County and even more in Osceola County, don't have that kind of proportional representation in the classroom.

We've beaten this conga drum before. Today Hispanic business people must speak up, ask the hard questions of area administrators and demand the answers our kids deserve.

Mediocrity is not an option.

Hispanics: Redistricting Will Steal Our Vote Power

By Mark Schlueb

September 7, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.




Local Hispanics say they’re about to be cheated by Orlando’s once-a-decade reapportionment plan.

Members of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Coalition for Fair Representation went into the months-long redistricting effort hoping to come away with more political clout. Whether they’ll get it or not depends on whom you ask.

"From the very beginning, this was a done deal and we were edged out," coalition member Ayme Rodriguez Smith said.

Every 10 years, political boundaries are redrawn at the local, county, state and federal level, based on new census numbers.

By rearranging City Council districts, Orlando leaders hope to ensure that all residents have equal representation. A volunteer Redistricting Advisory Committee has been meeting since May, examining detailed maps of the city and deciding in which district each neighborhood will be included.

The Puerto Rican/Hispanic Coalition has attended every meeting, pushing for a new boundary that would increase the voting power of what is now Orlando’s largest minority group. Coalition members say a cohesive voting bloc is crucial if Orlando is ever to have a Hispanic council member.

However, under the city’s current plan, the percentage of Hispanics living in City Council District 2 -- the district with the largest concentration of Hispanic residents in Orlando -- would actually decrease. Under the current boundary, 40 percent of those in the east Orlando district are Hispanic. The favored plan would cut it to 38 percent, a decrease of 937 people.

"They contend the drop in representation is slight. We beg to differ -- in an election, it makes a difference," Rodriguez Smith said.

City officials say that’s not so. Though the percentage of Hispanics would drop, District 2 would actually gain more Hispanic voters, they contend. That’s because the new boundaries would move some apartment complexes out of the district and replace them with Hispanic homeowners -- those more likely to be active in their community.

"Without exception, every elected official we’ve talked to has said that apartment dwellers are less likely to vote than homeowners," said assistant city attorney Amy Iennaco, Orlando’s point person on redistricting.

The proposed district boundaries also would increase the Hispanic influence in the other east Orlando district, District 1. Now, about 23 percent of those in District 1 are Hispanic. Under the new plan, that would climb to 27 percent.

Adding to the bad feelings between coalition members and city staffers is a last-minute change in the location of the first City Council meeting at which redistricting will be discussed. City officials had planned to meet at 7 p.m. Monday at the Dover Shores Community Center in east Orlando, but moved the meeting to City Hall to accommodate more people. Along with Orange County Democratic Party Chairman Doug Head, the coalition had mailed notices about the meeting before the location was changed. Rodriguez Smith said the switch was meant to exclude Hispanics.

Orlando officials plan to run advertisements in English- and Spanish-language publications to let residents know about the change. They also sent fliers to those on the coalition’s mailing list.

Help For Hispanic Students? Don't Bother Asking

by Myriam Marquez

September 11, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

If Hispanic business people and professionals expected to be enlightened about what Orange County schools are doing to help Latino kids break the language barrier and excel, they were sorely disappointed.

Last week's education forum, hosted by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida, tried to do too much with too little time. It wasn't the chamber's fault. School district officials asked to make a presentation but didn't want to take any questions because they figured there wouldn't be time to give in-depth answers.

How odd. School Board members have told me often that they want to hear from the business community, that they want to get people more involved in the schools. Well, it takes two to tango in this school dance, boys and girls.

How can people, none of them Hispanic, set policy for a school system in which minorities make up a majority without listening to the very folks who will be providing the jobs for many of those students?

It was a dog-and-pony show that left many in the audience wondering why they hadn't had a chance to ask specific questions of School Board members and Orange County Schools Superintendent Ron Blocker.

Several business people came up to me later at the event, in which I introduced the speakers, to tell me it had been a waste of time. They had expected the school system to showcase their successes and to speak seriously about what the school system is doing to improve the district's abysmal Hispanic dropout rate.

Some speakers, such as those pushing for mentors for a YMCA program for Hispanic students and the Orlando-Orange County Compact program that aims to keep at-risk kids in school, did what they could in the five minutes the program allotted for each.

University High School Principal Anna Diaz, the former president of the Florida Association of Hispanic Administrators, drove home the point that the school district hasn't done enough to promote qualified Hispanics to principal and other administrative positions. Barely 8 percent of the system's administrators are Hispanic even though the growth in the student population -- almost one in four students is Hispanic -- has soared for a decade.

Instead of tackling some of those issues, particularly the dropout rate and language instruction, Orange County School Board Chairman Susan Arkin rambled on for much longer than the five minutes allowed. She later left for another appointment before it was over.

I've always thought Arkin is one of the brightest and hardest-working board members, but she missed the mark last Thursday by not honing in specifically on the needs of Hispanic students. She talked about the "possibility for the future" of dual-language programs which can help both native-Spanish speakers learn English and kids who speak only English learn a foreign language, such as Spanish, French or whatever else. So what is the school system doing to make that a reality?

She didn't say. Instead she stressed that the school system has children who come from homes that speak one of more than 100 languages, such as Urdu. "What is Urdu? I've never heard it," she quipped.

Well, hear this: There are 29,264 students in Orange County schools who speak Spanish, and many of them need help learning English. They are by far the largest group, followed by 3,545 students who speak Haitian-Creole, 1,077 who speak Portuguese and 1,070 who speak Vietnamese. As for Urdu, 408 students speak it. Obviously, the audience came to hear about Hispanic children. Why waste business people's valuable time talking in circles?

School Board member Linda Sutherland did a much better job of explaining what she has done to help her district, which includes Colonial High School, where Hispanics make up half the student body. Sutherland talked about the possibility of a newcomer's school to help Hispanic children and their families navigate a new culture. But when would that happen?

We don't know.

Blocker talked about the need for high expectations for all children, but, again, he didn't get into specifics about language instruction.

Yet the loudest applause came when Sutherland talked about "the advantage" of students learning two languages, including instruction for non-Hispanic whites and African- Americans.

That was exactly Chamber President Raiza Tamayo's point when she told educators in her opening remarks that in our growing global economy, as trade with our Latin neighbors continues to increase in Florida, it's imperative that "students should be proficient in two languages."

About 200 people turned out to find out more about the school system. They want to get involved, because they know it's not only the right thing to do, it's a business imperative. The school system needs to follow up with a forum that would allow people to ask the tough questions. Only then can district officials show they are serious about helping Hispanic kids succeed.

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