Last month, !Adelante!, the Lancaster Latino Education Committee, held its 6th Annual Education Forum at the Lancaster campus of Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC). With its theme of “Changing Dropouts to Graduates: It Takes Persistence, Commitment and Dedication,” the day-long forum engaged students, teachers, parents and other community leaders in a series of workshops, cultural programs and roundtable sessions, all aimed at addressing a key issue facing young Latinos everywhere: staying in school and getting a quality education.
“We as a community, have a social obligation to positively impact educational outcomes, thereby decreasing the dropout epidemic. Failure to do so will ultimately jeopardize our future generation of leaders,” noted Co-chairs Norman Bristol-Colon and Frances M. Rodriguez. “We are all here because it is critical, strategic and intentional (for us) to address this issue.”
Hundreds of middle and high-school students from as far away as Allentown joined a broad range of college students, educators, business and community representatives and parents to address various ways to reduce the dropout rate. The fully interactive forum was designed to provide effective networking, professional development, student leadership and community engagement opportunities directly aimed at reducing the high school dropout and low college education ratse among young Latinos.
“It is critically important to our entire community that you be a success,” Lancaster‘s Mayor Ted Gray told the students attending the forum. Gray, an avid supporter of the !Adelante! Lancaster Latino Education Committee, has attended all six forums sponsored by the committee.
Keynote Speaker Dr. John J. “Ski” Sygielski, President of HACC and one of the Forum sponsors, noted that from 2008 to 2011, the Latino student rate at HACC had only grown from six percent to eight percent, even though some 44,000 Latinos live in Lancaster alone. “We can, we must and we will do better in attracting and keeping Latino students,” he said, noting the HACC Board of Trustees is currently engaged in looking at ways to expand diversity HACC campuses across southcentral Pa .
Dr. “Ski” said a variety of methods need to be developed to improve the college retention rate among young Latinos, including peer mentoring, tutoring services and the need to involve more Latinos as faculty members and advisors. “While 7 out of 10 Latino high school graduates go on to college, only 2 out of 10 currently graduate,” he said.
Statewide statistics show that five percent of Latino students are dropping out of high schools across Pennsylvania. That’s not to say dropout prevention isn’t taking hold. Dr. Pedro A Rivera, Superintendent of the Lancaster School District and the only Latino superintendent among the state’s 501 school districts, says the number of high school dropouts has gone from 400 when he assumed leadership of the district several years ago, to just 87 today. “However of those 87 – 55 were Latinos,” Dr. Rivera noted.