By Juan Manuel Garcia | #CafeAma
As we prepare to return to classes this fall, post COVID-19, I reflect on the changes that will have to take place in Education to make sure we educate ALL and serve ALL, meeting them where they are while providing equal opportunities for success.
When I emigrated to the U.S. from Peru more than 30 years ago, I spoke no English at all. My first job was as a dishwasher in Iowa. I was making minimum wage, but it was the only job I could get. So, as I share my story with the many students and family I work with, if I can do it, anybody can do it.
As a national education advocate, I’m often asked what I think will help improve post-secondary achievement for our first generation, minority, low income and English language learners in school today. I can tell you that the data shows that college aspirations for these students is very high, the caveat is that their readiness trails their ambitions.
This achievement gap or as I call it, the opportunity gap is surely predictable to anyone who follows education trends. However, the answers to the question of how we can close this gap — and prepare more Hispanic students for college and beyond —are less apparent.
As I work with many underrepresented families across the country, the message is clear: They want their children to achieve some type of postsecondary education, and they want to do everything they can to make sure it happens. These families need quality information, but there’s a built-in disadvantage for many of these students, as their parents who primarily speak Spanish often can’t help them with their homework. There’s also the fact that students of color are disproportionately attending underfunded schools, post COVID-19 we can not go back to the same educational model.
We know that parental/family involvement is strongly influential in determining a student’s readiness and expectations for attending any post-secondary education program. We also know even the best-educated parents have trouble going through the various forms and financial estimates that college and financial aid applications entail. If getting an accurate handle on college cost is unnerving for them, imagine why many families where English is not often spoken find it so intimidating, if not impossible, to navigate.
Many first-generation Hispanic immigrants don’t have the same opportunities and resources to learn that I had 30 years ago. And it was hard for me then.
Even if parents/families want to learn English, many must work multiple jobs and long hours, leaving them little time to study English. We must do more to engage these parents/families and do it earlier, so they have the resources and understanding they need to be effective advocates for their children.
So, what’s working?
I am honored to serve on the Board of Directors of Friends of Puerto Rico, a non-profit organization focusing on the economic development of the people of Puerto Rico through entrepreneurial initiatives, education and creating opportunities for women and girls. Since my initial involvement in 2016, I have seen these efforts become impactful programs serving students in the island, such as:
- Café Amapola - Café Amapola coffee directly supports Friends of Puerto Rico’s SEEDS program to develop the entrepreneurial spirit of the youth of Puerto Rico. Currently, 100 children from five different schools in Puerto Rico are receiving business education thanks to the sales of coffee, with 100% of the proceeds funding this initiative.
- Amigas Program - AMIGAS is comprised of a global society of women that connect to mentor and train women and girls to become entrepreneurs. Through our curriculum entrepreneurship program based out of coffee, they will begin their journey and create pathways to economic development. By 2022, our goal is to engage 1,000 women a year.
I am passionate about ALL our students; they are our future and we MUST present each of them with the opportunities to succeed.
My story is not an special one, everyone one of our students is fighting their own battle, my story is special because is an American story to believe in and it can be achieved by anyone, but it required policy supports like funding for community colleges, ESL programs, engaged and supportive faculty, staff, nonprofit and community partners. I am where I am, because many people helped me, now it is my time to pay it forward and ensure equity in education for ALL!
Juan Manuel Garcia serves as Vice President – Equity Solutions for Midas Education, In this capacity, Juan partners with education and business leaders to address equity issues to better serve ALL students, with emphasis in low income, first generation, English language learners and minority serving education systems.
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