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Hispanics in Memphis aim to increase college degrees

Check out the good work of Latino Memphis' Abriendo Puertas, recently printed in The Commercial Appeal:

When former Bartlett High School senior Fatima Escobar set her sights on attending college, she faced some of her biggest challenges at home, not in the classroom.

“Hispanic parents don’t know how the college process here works,” said Escobar, now a freshman at Christian Brothers University.

“My mom didn’t know what the ACT was. She didn’t know what a transcript was. I had to ask my peers and my guidance counselors how to explain to her. Everything is so new to Hispanic parents because most of them do not complete high school or college.”

Escobar was one of nine participants in a panel discussion hosted by Latino Memphis Thursday, during which students, school administrators and state and national funding partners shared perspectives on the triumphs and challenges of the city’s Latino students. Nearly three dozen community members attended the event, which focused on increasing post-secondary education attainment among Hispanics in Memphis.

Among the state’s Hispanic population, 16 percent of adults 25 and older had earned an associate degree or higher in 2012, compared to the national average of 20 percent, according to a 2011-12 enrollment analysis by Excelencia in Education, which aims to accelerate higher education success among Latino students.

Thursday’s meeting of higher-education minds primarily highlighted the progress Hispanic students are making in Memphis, thanks in part to programs such as Latino Memphis’ Abriendo Puertas program, funded through the State of Tennessee in conjunction with the Lumina Foundation’s Latino Student Success initiative.

“Today was an opportunity to showcase the work of the Latino Student Success initiative,” said Mauricio Calvo, director of Latino Memphis. “It’s a highlight of the progress and the relevance not only to Latinos but also to the entire community, because we’re the fastest-growing student population in America. It’s also an invitation to other partners to join this initiative. No organization can do this work alone.”

The Abriendo Puertas program, now in its second year, aims to introduce and mentor Latino high school students through the transition to college, with the ultimate goal of ensuring that 60 percent of Latino adults in Memphis have achieved a post-secondary degree or professional certification by 2025.

“We started with about 54 students from Kingsbury High last year. We had about 23 seniors in that group. Twenty-one of them graduated on time and enrolled in college,” said discussion moderator Jennifer Alejo, director of College Access-Abriendo Puertas for Latino Memphis. “We made sure we were with them on the first day of their college classes, made sure they continued through their first semester and that they were still transitioning through that second semester.”

Today the program has grown to 150 students in five high schools, including Kingsbury High School, Cordova High School, Kirby High School, Wooddale High School and Overton High School.

Posted by John Gaskill at 4:05 PM