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Latino education improvements are a work-in-progress in Delaware school districts

First-generation Latino, Rony Baltazar, is a product of the Milford School District. When he was attending school, there were limited translation services and he was tasked with not only helping himself, but also his parents. Whether it was filling out school documents or applications, he was the first person to make contact with people, which left him feeling intimidated.

“It’s not even translating just as itself. You also have to be able to understand and comprehend the substance of the material you're translating,” said Baltazar. “A lot of the things that I was translating were applications or how to get into the honors program, things that are really critical for students.”

Many Latino students still face similar issues today, such as lack of translation services, lack of parental understanding, or lack of internet access and computers at home during the pandemic. These barriers can contribute to lower graduation rates within Delaware’s Latino community.

According to the Department of Education, in 2021 the Latino graduation rate was 82 percent while the state graduation rate was 87 percent. In schools with a larger Latino population, such as Milford Senior High School, the Latino graduation rate was 65 percent while the general high school graduation rate was 78 percent. Responding to inequities within the Delaware education system could help more Latino students succeed in school.

Rony Baltazar
Delaware Public Media
Rony Baltazar

Aracely Garcia, a mother of two, has had mixed experiences.

Both of Garcia’s children initially attended Indian River School District, but had very different experiences with academic support. Her oldest, William, now 21 years old, received a lot of help from teachers. According to Garcia, he would receive additional assignments to help and she would do what she could as well.

“When he was five years old, he learned English because I didn’t speak English,” said Garcia. “I learned English with him. He studied with me and repeated the words. I tried to help him.”

When her youngest, Kenneth, now 16 years-old, started going to school, things changed. He was having trouble focusing in class and needed help with math and reading. It was too difficult for Garcia to help so she turned to the school, but was left disappointed.

“I tried to find help but they always say ‘No, he’s fine, he don’t need nothing like extra help,’ but for me I always think that he needs extra work and extra help because it was hard for me to understand his homework.”

Garcia said she spoke to teachers at his school every year but nothing changed. Frustrated, she moved to New Castle County and enrolled Kenneth in Aspira Academy. Located in Newark, this school “identifies and dismantles systemic inequities within education that contribute to opportunity gaps for our students.” Garcia says at Aspira, Kenneth is receiving the attention and help he needs.

That’s not to say school districts like Milford aren’t making an effort to help their Latino and multilingual students.

Milford’s Director of Equity and Social Services, Brittany Hazzard, was hired to tackle some of the inequities students face in the district. Hazzard explains that working out issues outside of the school are just as important as acknowledging issues inside the school.

“When supporting the whole child, you don’t want to look at academics and not look at their social and emotional wellbeing,” said Hazzard.

Anai Reyna
Anai Reyna

One area that remains an issue is translation services. The only translation service for Delaware schools is the Delaware Education Language Line, an over-the-phone interpretation service that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and contains nearly 200 languages. However, it does not translate written documents, which continues to put the burden on children.

For example, Anai Reyna, currently a senior psychology major at the University of Delaware, remembers her family's struggles with translation. Both of her parents came to the United States from Mexico at a young age when her father was 16 years old and her mother was 25.

“My parents made us [siblings] translate documents for them at a young age. I remember my sister, who was eight at the time, was translating legal documents such as bank statements and bills so my parents could understand what was going on.”

Reyna also noted that translation services were provided, but her family had to wait a few hours to get someone who spoke the language.

Growing up, Reyna recalls feeling she had to work twice as hard to get what she wanted than her mostly white classmates at W. Reily Brown Elementary School, however she saw that as an opportunity to educate others.

“When I was in elementary school, I was selected to help bring cultural awareness by either talking about my culture or wearing culture specific wardrobe for culture day,” said Reyna. “I thought it was great because I was able to share and talk about my culture with others. Now, I feel more appreciated about my culture because it helped shape my identity, morals and beliefs.”

Not only is it important to understand the needs of the Latino community, but it’s also important to recognize the various cultures that encompass the word “Latino.”

Hazzard mentioned the many programs that Milford school district has started to better aid their Latino students and connect people culturally. One program is Building Bridges, started by student interventionist Jessenia Carranza. The program connects multilingual families, in-person or virtually, so that they can express concerns and positive outcomes within the school district.

“She [Carranza] also does home visits, connects families with social services, and holds groups that are specific to supporting our Latino community here,” said Hazzard. “Within that, that brings a sense of belonging for our students. They build a relationship with Mrs. Carranza but they also get the opportunity to build relationships amongst each other.”

Dr. Brittany Hazzard
Delaware Public Media
Dr. Brittany Hazzard

Baltazar, the former vice president of the Milford School District Board of Education, noted that one-on-one times with teachers were very beneficial for him. These teachers would “call his parents to make sure there was a clear understanding of things.”

“I had, growing up, some of the best teachers who understood the dilemmas some of us face and were always there to help out whenever possible,” said Baltazar. “I think teachers are key, or key for me, in order to deal with the challenges that come with being the son of immigrants.”

There are many improvements that need to be made within the school system to help both Latino students and multilingual learners. The many programs that are available to the Latino community do help, but schools could still do more.

“They [schools] need to focus on the background of the students,” said Reyna. “Some students may be living under low income circumstances or they have difficulty obtaining help because of immigration status, which, of course, should not matter as students are a priority in educational stances.”