School reaching out to Latinos

Annapolis High tries to support Hispanic students, involve their families

November 19, 2006|By Ruma Kumar | Ruma Kumar,Special to The Sun

Trays of brownies and cookies were laid out in neat concentric circles. Quesadillas were fanned out on tables alongside mounds of tortilla chips and salsa. Eudes Carrillo anxiously looked at the spread, then her watch, then the gaping door to the school cafeteria.

It was 6:20 on a rainy Monday night and only three families had made it to the event that started at 6.

"I told everyone 5:20 p.m. just so they would come here on time," Carrillo said nervously.

Carrillo was the lead organizer for Annapolis High School's welcome night for Hispanic families. The first-of-its-kind event got off to a slow start but picked up over the next hour. About 30 families came to learn more about the school and the community.

An Army recruiter stood ready to tell them about signing up after graduation. A local bank representative was prepared with forms to help families start bank accounts immediately. A handful of representatives of community agencies stood with brochures offering help with such services as health care and driving lessons.

All this is to help Hispanic families feel comfortable with a place that more and more are calling home. The Organization of Hispanic/Latin Americans of Anne Arundel County estimates the county is home to more than 14,000 Hispanics or Latinos, a number that has been growing steadily since 2003, said executive director Joyce Masterson.

Graduation rate

Family nights like this are one way Annapolis High is trying to overcome low attendance and graduation among its Hispanic students. The school has the highest Hispanic student population in the county school system, with 235 students. Over the past three years, that group of students has had the lowest graduation rate in the school.

In June, only 44 percent of them graduated from Annapolis High -- far below the 88 percent and 70 percent graduation rates of their white and black counterparts, respectively. The statewide Hispanic graduation rate is 81 percent.

That disparity, school officials say, reveals a particularly acute need for intervention here.

On average, Hispanic students also missed school one out of every five days. Low attendance is contributing to low test scores among Hispanic students at Annapolis High. Only 25 percent of Hispanic students scored as proficient or advanced on the most recent algebra High School Assessments, compared with 75 percent among their white peers. In English, 39 percent scored at the proficient or advanced level.

As a result, Annapolis High is struggling to meet benchmarks for student performance set forth under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Public schools such as Annapolis High are under pressure to launch aggressive measures to improve student performance to avoid harsh sanctions, such as loss of federal funding, under the law.

"We're trying very hard to make [adequate yearly progress] with these students," said Marlene Wax-Arkin, the new assistant principal at the school. Wax-Arkin is a Cuban-American who is bilingual and hopes to use her Spanish to reach out to Hispanic families and get them involved in after-school tutoring.

Making ends meet

School administrators say many Hispanic students face tough pressures at home. Many come from poor backgrounds where parents need help making ends meet, so the focus is on work, rather than school. Many families encourage their children to attend school until 10th grade, just enough time to pick up English and get a better job. In Maryland, children who are 16 are able to drop out of school with parental consent.

"We are trying to help them see that school is not a revolving door," Wax-Arkin said. "We don't want them to just come here to learn English and then leave. And those who have left, we want to tell them about coming back and going to evening school. There are options. It's not all or nothing."

The work Wax-Arkin wants to accomplish will take dogged parent outreach efforts, something bilingual parent liaison Carrillo has begun. She works closely with such parents as Francisco Correal and Maria Perez. Their son Rodrigo Correal, 16, is a sophomore at the school.

The Chilean native is slowly getting better in English. He struggles with math, but Carrillo has encouraged him to stay after school on Wednesdays to get additional tutoring. Carrillo sends Rodrigo's parents regular progress reports from his classes. Outreach efforts like this are yielding dividends. Rodrigo's parents have high hopes for their son's future.

"I want him to be an educated person, do the best he can do," Rodrigo's mother, Maria Perez, said through an interpreter.

Rodrigo is feeling so confident about school that he wants to join the soccer team.

That's good news for Carrillo, who says dropping out of school becomes less of a concern when families get invested in the activities that schools have to offer.

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