Make way for Latino star schools

The Latino American dream is alive and well

Now that the dust is beginning to settle from the political tsunami created by the campaign vitriol, many folks in the education community are ready to challenge the subliminal messages of building the wall, deporting the immigrants, and removing the safety nets that support the Nation’s underserved Latino populations.    

Significantly, The National Center for Education Statistics forecasts a 42 percent increase in Latino college students by 2021, overtaking white students at 4 percent and African American students at 25 percent.  That said, the National Assessment of Educational Progress reports completion rates increasing from 57 to 65 percent and, significantly, cutting high school dropout rates in half while increasing total college enrollment rates from 54 to 70 percent.  Combine those demographics with future workforce projections—read as, that by 2020 65 percent of all jobs will require some type of college or postsecondary degree.  During that same period, Hispanic students will account for 20 percent of overall college enrollment.  Yet disparities in educational and career preparation persist.  

Now fast forward from the first Tuesday in November to the first week in January and you will find Juan Salgado connecting with downtown Chicago power hitters, high-ranking Illinois legislative and executive branch officials and named as a MacArthur Genius Fellow leading a new kind of Latino workforce academy—Instituto del Progreso Latino located in the Little Village neighborhood of Southwest Chicago.  Uniquely, Instituto was initially chartered and operated to assist underserved Hispanic adult populations, pass the immigration test, and learn English.  From its early beginnings, Salgado has quietly, yet persistently led the Instituto on a remarkable journey of growth and success over the last 15 years as President and CEO.

Not long after his arrival, Salgado recognized the trend toward degree inflation – the inevitable rise in skills expectations especially at the entry level in health, business and industry. No longer was 6th-gradee reading and math sufficient to provide gainful employment career paths for underprivileged newcomers.  Early on, Salgado understood that “we weren’t really connecting that adult learner with a specific career path where there were going to be jobs—where there was going to be opportunity to build. We weren’t connecting them to postsecondary education in a meaningful way.”

For Salgado, the first phase of reinvention centered on identifying unmet education and training needs in the growing fields of nursing and manufacturing.  The key was to transition from a 6th-grade reading and math education level to college level coursework—with a unique hands on workforce focus.  Through its innovative curriculum and pedagogical methodology, Instituto students advance at twice the rate of the average adult learner. Over time, Instituto turned to next generation student needs by creating two charter high schools—the Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy chartered for the purpose of preparing Latino students as career ready in the field of healthcare, and the Justice Leadership Academy—empowering young Latino minds with competitive job skills for the 21st Century.  

Distinctively, more than 10,000 students and family members walk through the doors of Instituto every year.  In fact, Instituto has become a central cog in Chicago – empowering a community-based Latino organization recognized by both public and private philanthropic agencies including prominent Chicago philanthropies like MacArthur Foundation, JP Morgan Chase Foundation, Joyce Foundation, and Chicago Community Trust, and nationally, by the Ford Foundation, Walmart Foundation, and Aspen Institute.  

In 2010, Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy opened its doors as a charter high school serving Chicago area Latino youth grades 9 through 12.  What was different about IHSCA was that it prepared graduates to take their place at the most respected colleges and universities in Chicago, and eventually across the Nation.  By offering a college preparatory health science curriculum, students are exposed to both scientific and technical healthcare skills and a strong general education core focused on languages, mathematics, computers, English and Spanish.  Seen by many as a prudent risk taker, Juan Salgado was out in front on inspiring the health care institutions, businesses and industries to invest in Instituto students with work co-ops, internships, scholarships, and other forms of tuition assistance.  

For Salgado, this forward thinking growth plan had a double edged approach guaranteeing both students and employers that “if we don’t get you there, you won’t pay us back.”  Instituto’s covenant created a revolving loan fund with the promise that students don’t pay unless their careers are set and their incomes are stable.  Salgado added “that’s risky, but our results have been pretty solid and led to a self-sustaining cycle of mobility.” Salgado’s going forward perspective in looking over the next horizon of growth for Instituto lies in birthing a new kind of College Program ratcheting up the level of academic rigor and career preparedness.  

When new students come through the doors of Instituto, they feel an ultramodern experience with expansive floor to ceiling glass overlooking the Chicago skyline.  When Salgado asked students the reasons for coming to Instituto, invariably they will say “to get a job.”

Other noteworthy projects include The Exploratorium in San Francisco, California, which will work with Sonoma Valley schools on a five-year project to refine and implement a professional development approach to increase the percentage of elementary teachers who are highly effective in supporting the science learning of English language learners.

Another example is the Eastside Promise Neighborhood project in San Antonio, where the United Way will enlist and engage partners to work with five schools and an early childhood center serving an ethnically diverse neighborhood with a Latino majority and a growing Mexican immigrant population.  This project will improve parent engagement, provide professional development to preschool and school staff, and deliver resources for economic redevelopment and housing.

The Community Day Care Center in Lawrence, Massachusetts will work with several schools to develop sustainable educational supports and solutions in a community that is 68 percent Latino, and in which 40 percent of adults lack a high school diploma.  

Proyecto Pastoral at Dolores Mission will work in the 30-block Boyle Heights area in Los Angeles, a community where more than 90 percent of residents are Latino and one-third of families are below the poverty level.  

The Saint Vrain Valley School District in Longmont, Colorado will implement a project to address the unmet needs of Latino and English language learners at Skyline High School and its feeder schools.  Elementary students will improve their literacy skills through focused supports and expanded learning time; middle school students will improve their mathematics skills and knowledge with math labs and an augmented school year; high school students will have improved science learning opportunities through a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) certification track.  

In closing, Juan Salgado put it nicely “Latinos have made significant gains in educational attainment.  Specifically, Latino students are now graduating at higher rates than ever, their dropout rate is the lowest in recent history, and they are enrolled in postsecondary institutions in record numbers.”   

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