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Professor Manuel Hernández
Essays Collection

Address: : 2012 Ernest St. Kissimmee, Florida 34741

Manuel Hernandez was born in Sleepy Hollow, New York in 1963. He completed undergraduate studies at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus and finished a Master�s in Education from Herbert H. Lehman College (CUNY) in the Bronx in 1994. He has coordinated symposiums, produced and coordinated television interviews on the literature written by Puerto Rican and Latino/a writers from the Diaspora. He has done numerous presentations, workshops and seminars on how to integrate latino/a literature in the English classroom. In 2014, he participated in a TedxTalk (Connections) at Southern New Hampshire University. He is the author of three books, , Latino/a Literature in the English Classroom (Editorial Plaza Mayor, 2003), The Birth of a Rican (Imprenta Sifre. 2008) and Living the Kingdom with purpose (Imprenta Sifre, 2013). He is a Language Arts teacher at Osceola School District in Florida.

A Latino/a Teen In Dire Need of an Education: One in a Million

by Manuel Hernández

Last month, my cousins daughter was on the verge of dropping out of high school. Alma called me up and asked that I talk to my precious teen cousin. Gloria was thinking of quitting school just seven months before her 2004 high school graduation. My cousin Alma and I grew up together in East Los Angeles in the late 1960s. She married Felipe, a recently arrived Puerto Rican and moved to The Island of Puerto Rico in 1984. Months after Gloria was born, they moved to New York City looking for better job opportunities and a better way of life.

Years later, Gloria had turned into a lavishing hazel-eyed Latina brunette. She had already eloped for a weekend once before with her American boyfriend, Steve, and Angela feared the worst. Gloria worked at night at a local fast-food restaurant to help the family, and she often did not wake up in time for her first period class. Falling behind lead her to miss more classes. Her mother was on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Her relationship with Felipe was disastrous, and Gloria witnessed the daily shouting and verbal outbreaks between her parents.

While cruising on the # 6 train to the Spanish Harlem Projects, I reflected on my young cousins situation. She was not alone in her dilemma. This was not the first time Gloria and I spoke about her problems in school. As the English teacher in the family, I was often called upon to share my words of wisdom with my young cousin.

I had just published a textbook to improve educational outcomes, and to provide the preparation and encouragement needed for Latino students to enter, and succeed in college. It was to serve as a bridge to American and British classics and further literary analysis. The textbook was designed with specific strategies and skills to prepare these students for city, national and state high school exams. The featured writers were of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban and Dominican origin. The textbook included exercises, questions and reading and writing activities that were appropriate for Latino students and other students as well. Activities that invited students to use research and technology were also incorporated in the textbook

I wanted my textbook to help Gloria and teens like her, but it had just been published in December of 2003. I was very enthusiastic about the books possibilities, but Gloria was a bit too late to benefit from it. She was at risk of earning lower earnings and working in menial jobs. Besides, her beauty could turn her into a target for potential predators in all walks of life.

What are the possible causes of Glorias situation? She was one in a million and in dire need of an education.

About 40 percent of the Latino children in the United States are below the poverty level. Less financial resources mean fewer opportunities for quality education. Just like Gloria, children from low-income families are always more expensive to educate as they do not always show up at school ready to learn. Poor children more often than not attend under-funded schools. The Education Trust released a report in August 2002 documenting large funding gaps between high- and low-poverty and -minority districts in many states. The report reveals that in 31 of 47 states they studied, districts enrolling the highest of minority students receive substantially fewer (i.e. a difference of $100 or more per student) state and local education dollars per student than districts enrolling the lowest percentages of minority students. The same gap occurred in 30 of the 47 states studied for districts educating the greatest number of poor students. These gaps have real and troublesome consequences for the quality of education low-income and minority children receive. Students coming from below poverty line incomes have fewer opportunities to receive extra-curricular support for standardized testing preparation and tutoring. As a consequence, many Latino teens find themselves working a part-time and even a full-time job during their high school years to help sustain their meager family income.

Second, teenage pregnancy rate is extremely high making the next generation of Latino teens more likely to have less parental support. Latinos accounted for 31 percent of total births fewer than 15 years of age in the year 2000; and 27.6 percent of the total births from mothers between 15 and 19 years of age.

Third, language proficiency is a problem. Many Latino immigrants enter the U.S. having limited proficiency in Spanish and as a result the teaching of English becomes a monumental task. With the dismantling of English as a Second Language and High School Bilingual Programs, Latinos have fewer opportunities to make a transition to mainstream academic courses. In many instances, recently arrived foreign-born Latinos find themselves sinking or swimming in the classroom.

Fourth, Research on class size reveals that while reductions by just a few students (for example from 27 to 24 students) may not result in dramatic differences in student achievement, when class size is reduced to 15 to 20 students, they achieved academically on par with and often better than those in larger schools; have stronger academic and general self-esteem; lower drop-out rates and higher attendance and graduation rates. Hispanic students benefit even more than students in general in smaller schools. The California Department of Education, 2003, revealed that nearly 1,000 school sites are critically overcrowded, with student population densities in excess of 200 percent and sometimes 300 percent according to the California Department of Education guidelines.

Fifth, the highest high school dropout rate amongst minorities is preventing Latinos to attain a higher education degree. As a matter of fact, although Latinos are a stunning 13% of the total US population, they represent 6% in graduate programs. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 14 percent of U.S. born Hispanic students and 44 percent of Foreign born Hispanic students drop out of high school. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a college graduate will earn more over a lifetime period than a high school graduate. However, in the traditional age group, only 25 percent of foreign-born Latinos who graduated from high school are enrolled in an undergraduate institution. If Latinos are less likely to graduate from high school but continue to grow in population, the United States has an economic situation that needs serious attention.

Sixth, Latino teens are scoring poorly in city, state and national testing requirements. Teens have difficulties reacting and responding to literature that is far away from their immigrant experience. There is no bridge to facilitate the literary analysis of the classics. The literary text possesses no fixed and final meaning or value; there is no one "correct" meaning. According to Louise Rosenblatt, a poem is "what the reader lives through under the guidance of the text." If Latino teens cannot make a connection with the text, there will be little possibility of an interpretation. As a consequence, the possibilities of better scores in these exams are reduced to a minimum.

Last, the voucher issue is still an enigma in educational circles. It is an attempt to facilitate the education of Latino children and rescue them from failing school systems; especially those in inner-city neighborhoods are school voucher programs. The program proposed in states across the United States of America would distribute vouchers to parents, usually in inner-city school districts. Parents could then use the vouchers to pay for the cost of tuition at private schools of their choice. The program is innovative but has fueled fierce debate and animosity within educational circles in America.

These were just some of the causes. But who could help precious Gloria now? How can Latino teens compete in a new found world with higher academic standards? How can they be part of a society when they feel a lack of personal involvement in the classroom? How will we as leaders of our children see it that they receive a better education? Looking within will help us to see ourselves in a mirror to assess, reflect and implement the strategies and initiatives necessary to transform. We are all tired of the statistics; they are a reality, but the truth is in our minds and hearts.

The Government is doing its best to give us the key for the education of our children, but we must embark on a journey to envision ourselves with the tools, strategies, initiatives and courage to open the door for our present and up and coming generations.