Hispanic support group bolstered

Grant will allow Conexiones board to add 12 members

December 01, 2006|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,Sun reporter

Conexiones, a community group that promotes Hispanic education in Howard County, plans to expand tutoring programs, strengthen after-school offerings and place more emphasis on community college as its board expands to 20 members.

Murray Simon, president of Conexiones, attributed the increase of board members to the Columbia Foundation, which recently provided the group with a $1,500 grant to hire a consultant to help get the expanded board up and running.

Since 2002, the Columbia Foundation has given Conexiones $43,500 in grants, said Candace Dodson Reed, associate director of the foundation.

"With the growing Latino community in Howard County, we think that it is important to support organizations that look like our community," said Dodson Reed. "Conexiones does a fabulous job of reaching out to the Latino community."

Simon said the addition of 12 board members gives the organization "the best combination of human resources to help Hispanic students reach their potential. We look forward to their participation and to their work."

Roger J. Lerner, a business lawyer, business owner and adviser, has worked with Conexiones for a year and a half.

"I think it is very important to help Hispanic students make the transition into the school system and to address the unmet needs of Hispanic kids," said Lerner, a school board candidate this fall.

He added that he also is interested in helping Conexiones develop grass-roots support - financially and politically.

Conexiones was founded in 2000 by Simon and the Rev. Walter Rodriguez of the First Church of the Nazarene in Ellicott City.

The two started the program to help "a population without a sense of support," Simon said.

"We decided to that we should do something to help Hispanic students," he said.

Hispanics account for 4 percent of the school system's 47,872 students, according to the system's 2005 Ethnicity Report. Hispanic students have the highest dropout rate in the county and record some of the lowest assessment scores in biology, algebra, English and social studies, according 2005 statistics from the Maryland State Department of Education.

"Overall [Conexiones was formed] to give Hispanic students a sense that someone cares," said Simon, who estimates that membership has grown to 300.

The organization offers tutoring, brings in speakers and sponsors educational field trips. It also holds a convocation ceremony for Hispanic graduating seniors and works with the school system to increase the number of Hispanic teachers.

Teacher recruitment highlights Lerner's list of concerns.

"Presently, we have instances where we have after-school programs with teachers who do not speak Spanish to students who do not speak English," Lerner said. "We want to address that problem."

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

board members

The formal installation of Conexiones board members will be held at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at La Palapa Grill and Cantina in Ellicott City.

Here is the board:

The Rev. Walter Rodriguez, First Church of the Nazarene in Ellicott City.

Roger J. Lerner, a former school board candidate.

Diane Martin, director of planning and community service for the school system.

Gabriel Terrasa, an attorney and the husband of newly elected County Council member Jen Terrasa.

Dr. Yvette Berruz Oqendo, a physician.

Virgilio Blanco, a former Mexican diplomat.

Luis Bravo, an employee with the National Institutes of Health.

Seli Carter, an assistant commissioner for the Social Security Administration.

Mercedes Castro, a mathematics teacher in Howard County.

Gisela Cooke, special-education teacher at Reservoir High School.

Millie Ribeiro, a parent in the school system.

Nicola Hildreth, a guidance counselor at Howard High School.

Lucy Hollis, a guidance counselor at Atholton High School.

Yanitza Navas, an interpreter.

Marcela Phillips, a parent.

Heidi Strominger, who will replace Murray Simon, president of Conexiones, at the end of the school year.

Rosalba Suarez, an employee of the school system's International Student and Family Outreach Office.

The board also includes three county high school students:

Armina Tudela, a junior at Oakland Mills High School

Valeria Fuentes, a senior at Oakland Mills High.

Christina Lugo, a junior at Reservoir High.

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