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Working Together to Support Latino Student Achievement

Chris Commers is a history teacher at Chaska High School in a suburban community southwest of Minneapolis. He has a master's degree in public affairs from the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, and wrote this post about a public work effort he and others are organizing in Chaska, Minnesota.

A group of community members in Chaska - Latino families, educators and other community members - is concerned with increasing student achievement among Latino students with low socio-economic status. We see citizen engagement as a key to increasing academic success while providing all participants with a greater sense of their civic power and the benefits of collaboration in strengthening our community.

We are organizing folks who see their own self-interest in working with others to accomplish the common goal of increasing student achievement. “One to one? meetings with folks who are potential collaborators allow us to communicate ideas and find leaders willing to work on our campaign. Currently, our biggest champions are lay minister Maria Koehn at Guardian Angels Catholic Church, ELL teachers such as Kristin Rodriguez, cultural liaisons like Lupe Pfaff, educators like Kathy McLain, para professionals such as Cynthia Juarez, and community members like Eddie Rodriguez - and many others!

As the result of discussions with Latino community members on Sunday afternoons following mass at Guardian Angels Church, our group has decided to focus on post-secondary educational information. At present, this is an integral part of a larger campaign to include the participation of area businesses, other Latino groups in the community, and more educators. An example would be increasing collaboration between families and teachers working to increase pre-school language literacy. Another example would be librarians in Chaska working with the school district to provide computer training so more community members use library technology and come into the Chaska library. These model activities could then be adapted and reproduced throughout the school district and beyond.

Our community has a number of strengths, and it is important for us to keep these in mind as we deal with challenges. The strengths in our local Latino community include strong family networks and community ties, a strong desire to achieve educationally and economically, and an overall healthy sense of civic agency. Some of these families, however, lack English language skills, experience with post-secondary options, and resources such as time and money. Our community of educators possesses information, connections, and the means to collaboratively enhance academic success. That said, some educators suffer from low morale and desire more collaboration and recognition of their work. Other community members come with a similar mix of strengths and barriers, and individual goals they can achieve through collaborative work in the campaign.

On Sunday, April 13, from 1:15 to 2:30 p.m., Guardian Angels Church will host a college and technical school information presentation in Spanish and English. We have a donor who has pledged to match up to $500 for a post-secondary scholarship to a Latino student from our community. And we are in preliminary discussions with a group of Latino professionals interested in sharing their experiences and resources with our community.

We draw inspiration from stories of other communities working together to solve common challenges, and are confident that by pooling our resources, talents, and experience we’ll be able to make a difference that will benefit all of us in Chaska.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs