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The Search Is On For Hispanic Teachers And Role Models… Hispanic Women Increasingly Seek Opportunities In Education

The Search Is On For Hispanic Teachers And Role Models Districts Look Near And Far For People To Guide Rising Hispanic Student Population

Jennifer Patterson Daily Herald Staff Writer

November 24, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Chicago Daily Herald . All rights reserved. 

Ernesto Cruz began teaching bilingual math and science classes at Carpentersville Middle School eight years ago.

It was a midlife career change for the now 54-year-old Hoffman Estates man.

He had a good job as the manager of a plant in Palatine, a nice home and a happy family.

"I had everything I wanted and I thought, 'These kids deserve the same,' " he said. "Anything I can do to make their life better, I'd do it."

If only Community Unit District 300 could find more like him.

Just 3.4 percent of teachers in District 300 schools are Hispanic. Yet, the district's Hispanic student population is 20.6 percent, according to school report card data released last week by state school officials.

The data shows the state average for school districts is 3.7 percent Hispanic teachers, while the Hispanic student population averages 16.2 percent across the state.

Still, a teacher's a teacher, you may say.


But administrators and experts alike say you can't overlook the value of having a familiar role model for students who find themselves immersed in a different culture, surrounded by a foreign language, and headed for an uncertain future.

Long-distance recruiting

In fact, many think having Hispanic teachers in schools with Hispanic students is so important that they're recruiting from as far away as Mexico, Puerto Rico and Spain as a way to help ensure students are served in the best manner possible.

"Probably the biggest challenge we have is recruiting Hispanic teachers," said Brian Husted, District 300's assistant superintendent for personnel. "There is simply not an adequate supply."

A general teacher shortage in Illinois and across the nation is well-documented.

Trying to find teachers with special certifications in areas like special education, industrial arts, and bilingual education - many of whom are Hispanic - is even more difficult, Husted said.

"A huge number of Hispanic kids don't graduate from high school," said Else Hamayan, director of the Illinois Resource Center in Des Plaines. "They're not finding role models in the education community. They're not getting the right kind of instruction.

"We're just not growing our own teachers."

Finding more teachers

The Illinois Resource Center provides resources and assistance for teachers with students of many cultures and languages.

The center is trying to reverse that trend with a program called "Transitions to Teaching."

The grant-funded program offers scholarships for bilingual people to take classes to become certified to teach, she said.

So far, about 100 people have received scholarships and have started down that path.

Hamayan said that amount, however, is "minimal in context of the need."

Some area school districts have taken to recruiting out of the country in efforts to bring in more Hispanic teachers.

Administrators from Elgin Area School District U-46 and East Aurora District 131 have traveled together to Mexico, Puerto Rico and Spain for the past several years to interview potential teachers.

District 131's student population is almost 75 percent Hispanic. About a third of those kids participate in bilingual programming, said John Struck, associate superintendent.

"I think what we're looking for are teachers with that fluency," he said. "We strongly believe that our teacher population should be reflective of our student population."

Just more than 22 percent of the district's teachers are Hispanic - one of the highest in the area.

In U-46, almost 33 percent of students are Hispanic, as are 10.5 percent of teachers.

District 300 does not go on such recruiting missions, Husted said, for one main reason - there's not enough money in the budget.

The trips are expensive, said Dionnes Rivera, director of English as a Second Language and Bilingual programs for U-46.

In fact, budget cuts there nixed the trips to Mexico and Puerto Rico this year. District officials are unsure if they will still go to Spain, however, because they are reimbursed by that country for the expense.

West Aurora District 129 also does not do recruiting outside the country.

With a 32.5 percent Hispanic student population, just 5.4 percent of teachers are Hispanic.

The district has begun participating in a countywide consortium that allows prospective teachers to apply to all districts in the county.

"Our school district may be able to benefit from some of the recruiting that other districts do," said Christine Crouch, human resources officer for District 129.

Similarly, instead of going the global route, Husted said District 300 leaders participate in local recruiting that is specifically for Hispanic or otherwise bilingual teachers such as Cruz.

Originally from Colombia, Cruz finds himself coaching an intramural soccer team, hosting an after-school homework club, and other activities for his seventh- and eighth-grade students.

"More than the mainstream teachers, we have to be role models for these kids," he said.

Many of his students already have more education than their parents, but no firm goals for continuing school and starting careers.

Many leave parents and other family members behind in their native countries, so Cruz said he sometimes finds himself acting as counselor, friend and family member.

Some say they believe that may be one of the biggest impacts of a Hispanic teacher for Hispanic students.

"It's important that kids have role models to identify with," Husted said.

Hamayan agrees.

"So they can say, 'Hey, that's someone just like us. Maybe I can be that someday.' "

Hispanic Women Increasingly Seek Opportunities In Education


November 24, 2002
Copyright © 2002 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. 

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - Yamel Caquias shoulders a heavy responsibility. And she loves every minute of it.

The 32-year-old Puerto Rico native shows high school students the ropes to pull themselves into college or, at the very least, into a program after high school that will help them earn a better living.

"I hold their hand through the process, if that's what I have to do," she says.

And she's learned from experience that a higher education is achieved by desire, perseverance and determination.

In December, Caquias, the K-12 outreach and enrollment coordinator at Pima Community College's Desert Vista Campus, will earn a bachelor's degree in management from the University of Phoenix.

Roxanne Felix, meanwhile, is preparing for a move to Flagstaff to begin her college experience at Northern Arizona University.

The 17-year-old Sunnyside High School senior is excited about her decision and is ecstatic that her older sister, Marisela Felix, 21, will be in her final year at NAU when Roxanne arrives.

The younger Felix said that her sister's being there is the main reason she chose that college, and that she likes Flagstaff and the campus.

Of course, the fact that "it's something different from Tucson" doesn't hurt, but Felix admits that "I never thought I'd be leaving, ever."

The young woman, a violinist in her high school's mariachi group Los Diablitos, says she is very close to her mother.

"I know she's sad, but she's always told me, 'Don't let me stop you, don't let me hold you back,' " she says of her mom.

Not everyone, however, is that fortunate.

In the recent movie "Real Women Have Curves," a high school graduate from a low-income Hispanic family in Los Angeles earns a full scholarship to Columbia University in New York City.

But the young woman's family, especially her mother, treats the opportunity as something that will break the family apart. Her mother goes so far as to ask her daughter if she wants to abandon her family.

The answer, of course, is "no," and the adolescent's dreams appear to be quashed.

While Felix's scenario is a more positive one in which she's aided and supported by the people around her, in many situations that's not the case.

"Traditionally, a Hispanic girl doesn't leave the family until she's married. You stay close to home," Caquias says.

She said that for many of the young people she talks to "it's a leap to go off to college."

Also, Caquias says many of the students she encounters don't even want to bring up the subject of college because they worry their families can't afford it.

"I didn't get involved in extracurricular activities in high school because I didn't want to burden my parents with having to pay for a uniform," she says.

For Felix, having her family's blessing on her college plans has made all the difference in the world, she says. So far, she plans to pursue communications but isn't sure about much else.

Felix is also getting help and guidance from Arlene Benavidez, 41, program coordinator at the University of Arizona Office of Early Academic Outreach. The two would get together occasionally and go over questions Felix has about school, Benavidez says.

"My job with her seems so small because she's got a lot of it already together," Benavidez says of Felix.

Benavidez herself has overcome obstacles on the road to higher learning, and says the experience has enriched her life in ways few things can.

Benavidez was raised by her grandparents, who each had an elementary-level education; her grandfather completed the second grade and her grandma the sixth grade.

When Benavidez was 18, she went to work for US West Communications, where she made a good living. But at age 31, she decided to go back to school full time for a bachelor's degree in business management.

"When I told my (grandparents) I was quitting my job to go back to school, they both looked at me like I was crazy," she recalls.

"In their minds, I had it made. I made more money than most people in my family. They couldn't understand it."

But when they saw her graduate from Arizona State University four years later, they were beaming with pride, she says.

"In their hearts, they did understand. It was the happiest day of my life. My grandparents, in their 80s, were alive and with me to see me graduate. It's about desire, preparation and determination."

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