LatinaLista — Earlier this month, the Pew Hispanic Center released a report titled The Changing Pathways of Hispanic Youths Into Adulthood.
While not a lot of the statistics cited in the report were new -- Latino students still lag behind their peers when it comes to high school graduation rates, college completion, high Latina teenage birth rates, etc. -- there was one small difference.
It was found that Latina students outperformed the boys when it came to graduating from high school and entering college. Why is that?
I attempted to offer my reasons in an op-ed which was published in USAT last week. Unfortunately, not the whole column, due to length, was printed. This subject is such an important issue, not only facing the Latino community, but the entire country, that I thought I would share the column in its entirety.
For several years, reports on the educational progress of Hispanics have been loaded with frightening statistics outlining the pathetic educational future of Hispanic students, especially girls.
Last month, the National Women's Law Center released the latest report, which recycles the sad news of the past: 41% of Latina students don't graduate from high school, and many still internalize negative stereotypes that harm their career paths.
To be fair, these reports have not fallen on deaf ears. Early on, Latinas from all professional walks of life answered the call to change those outcomes. And their efforts are beginning to pay off.
But their progress raises another question: Has too much emphasis been placed on helping young girls to the detriment of the boys?
The Pew Hispanic Center just released a study finding that while young Latinas still lag behind their female peers and fare worse than young black men when it comes to school or workforce issues, they still do better than young Latinos.
The report found that 44% of Latinas with a high school diploma went on to enroll in college vs. 34% of the boys with diplomas. The report also cites a decline in teenage pregnancy among Latinas. Compared to 1970 when 35% of Latinas, ages 16-25, were mothers, the numbers have decreased to 21% reported in 2007. Researchers found that of those young Latinas who were not mothers, almost 60% were enrolled in college or school in 2007.
These modest milestones may be attributed to a number of programs specifically created to help young Latinas boost their self-esteem, steer clear of early sex and stay in school.
In California, Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE) created in 2004 the Youth Leadership through Literacy Program that annually targets 300 low-income high school-age Latinas with college readiness skills, along with, financial empowerment activities.
Ninety-eight percent of the program's participants have graduated from high school with 80% enrolling in college.
For the last nine years, Washington D.C.-based National Hispana Leadership Institute (NHLI) has operated the Latinas Learning to Lead program.
Bringing to Washington 22 college-age girls from across the country, the Institute provides activities to foster leadership development and encourage the girls to stay in college to receive their degrees.
An impact study commissioned by NHLI revealed that since 2001 the program has graduated 198 young Latinas. As of 2007, 57% were expected to receive a graduate degree. On top of that, of the Latinas involved in the program two-thirds (66%) have returned to their home communities and have mentored two or more Latinas.
Since 2002, Austin, Texas-based Latinitas has focused on empowering young girls from 4th-grade through high school to become successful adults by involving them in after-school programs, workshops and media camps. They created the first digital magazine for and by U.S. Latina youth. The organization also hosts bilingual girl empowerment programs throughout Texas.
Latinitas serves over 3,500 girls annually through their clubs and workshops through their headquarters in Austin and El Paso. Though they haven't been able to keep track of all their girls, Latinitas has an alumni group, of which, several are currently in college or are college graduates.
In Idaho, the Mujeres Unidas women's group oversees the 12-year-old Stay in School QuinceaÃ±era Program.
The three-month program is unique in that it is one of the few programs in the country that targets both 14-year-old girls -- and boys.
Using the lure of teaching the students the waltz, the traditional dance at Latina coming-of-age parties, the program incorporates Saturday workshops where the importance of staying in school is stressed.
So far, the program has serviced over 200 students and touts an 80-90% high school graduation rate among its participants, with 50% going on to college.
Unfortunately, the Stay in School QuinceaÃ±era Program is one of only a handful of programs widely known to target young Latinos.
Aside from the Boy Scouts, which recently started a Hispanic outreach campaign, the Latino Outreach Initiative of Boys & Girls Clubs of America and private initiatives by local churches or men's groups, the same abundance of programs to keep boys in school are not known to exist.
Dr. Luis Ponjuan, assistant professor in the College of Education at the University of Florida, Gainesville, FL is the co-author of the January 2009 study the "Vanishing Latino Male in Higher Education." He said that the emphasis on Latinas stems from seeing Latina success as a gender issue where the historical perspective is that Latinas have been neglected.
As a result, Dr. Ponjuan and his co-author, Dr. Victor Saenz, assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin's College of Education found that folks doing programs are not placing the attention on Latino males and for that reason boys are less targeted. It has reached a point said Dr. Ponjuan where there exists a "silent crisis" among young Latinos.
"In our research, we saw a lack of attention to Latino males. We found there was not a unified voice to understanding the plight of Latino males who have less participation rates in higher education than Latinas, blacks, Asians or whites," said Dr. Ponjuan.
Until the same aggressiveness to create programs to help Latino youth are applied, as with Latinas, educational disparities between the two groups will continue to grow as will the rate of lost potential among young Latinos.
(Editor's Note: Dr. Ponjuan tells Latina Lista that since the release of his report, the "Vanishing Latino Male in Higher Education," he and Dr. Saenz have been working to elevate awareness of the "silent crisis." So far, the College Board has conducted forums on the topic and plans to release a report in January 2010.
Also, after the USAT column was published, I was made aware of several new programs working with young Latinos -- Encuentros Leadership and Excelencia in Education which just awarded and recognized two initiatives: Monroe Community College's "Doorway to Success: Latino Male Retention Initiative" and Union County College's "The Clave Latino Male Empowerment Program")