Last week, we attended one of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans’ “community conversations,” this one held at the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College. This initiative, led by Juan Sepulveda, seems to be taking a qualitative approach with “community conversations” to collect information on what works best in certain communities to help Hispanic Americans.
Sepulveda, the executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, requested feedback on where the Department of Education should spend its time and funds to help Hispanic Americans achieve educational excellence. The meeting, attended by several hundred people, was organized into sessions designed to generate feedback from various constituency groups: elected leaders, business leaders, the campus community, and the broader community.
Sepulveda used a Native American form of circular communication to help participants identify key issues and challenges from preschool to post-secondary education. He noted that 25 to 30 percent of our nation’s children from birth to age 5 are Hispanic Americans and that 23 states have a majority of Hispanic American students in this age range. Because the Department of Education places Latino/a student success as a high priority, Sepulveda said he would be visiting 16 of these states in the next few months.
For many of us who teach in south Texas, Washington, D.C., is a distant place, far removed from our communities and our particular success and challenges with Hispanic American students. Based on Sepulveda’s outreach, we’re confident Washington will seem like a less distant place to some of these communities, and they will be more likely to voice their concerns and innovative ideas at a national level.
Already, Sepulveda’s outreach has generated tremendous interest. The Brownsville faculty/student session was well attended even though the event occurred on short notice and took place during the summer when many faculty members are not on campus. We were particularly encouraged by the interactions we saw among
As faculty members from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, an Hispanic-serving institution, two contributors to this column, Drs. Cárdenas and Kirklighter, saw the value of participating in this cross-institutional exchange with faculty members on the border. We have engaged in a number of cross-institutional conversations, workshops, and research projects with teachers at HSIs across the nation. The enthusiasm, sincerity, and insights that the Brownsville students and teachers expressed showed us that we can share knowledge, best practices, and successes to enhance our interactions among students, parents, and communities in south Texas. At our particular roundtable discussion, we English professors were enlightened by nursing professors who talked about understanding the challenges of students by embracing both the students and their families.
Participants at the other three sessions included government officials, area business leaders, and members of the general public. Dr. Dameron, the third contributor to this column, observed that all three groups provided specific responses to Sepulveda’s request for input about what is not working, what is working and needs to be continued, and what should be initiated to strengthen educational opportunity, and then success, for Hispanic Americans. Sepulveda and his staff assured the participants that their verbal and written responses would be incorporated in the analysis at the end of the fact-finding tour around the country.
We applaud Juan Sepulveda and his team for visiting these various communities to better ascertain the challenges and key issues for Latino/a students. We look forward to the creation of task forces that come from these meetings and the identification of key issues and challenges for the success for Latino/a students at all levels. As Dr. Juliet Garcia, president of the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, noted in her remarks, there is no shortage of valuable human capital in south Texas and educators in the region have a successful track record of using resources efficiently and effectively.
We also need to have easy access to the findings and recommendations of the task forces through the Department of Education. Attention to a continuum of feedback will ensure that the widest possible participation is achieved. Finally, we need assurance that these recommendations will be given the same level of attention in their implementation within the Department of Education. If the goodwill created by this initiative is matched by decisive action, the current administration can achieve educational improvements for Hispanic Americans despite the financial crisis that continues to threaten every sector of our economy, including our educational institutions.
Dr. Diana Cárdenas is an associate professor of English at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi; Dr. Charles Dameron is vice president for academic affairs at the University of Texas at Brownsville; and Dr. Cristina Kirklighter is an associate professor of English at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
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