These uncertain times test the perseverance, determination and strength of the Latino community like never before. News of unemployment, foreclosure, and hunger rates appear on TV, radio and the front page. If you are Latino, add immigration issues, poverty and high school dropout rates among our youth as added topics commanding constant attention.
However, not all news is discouraging.
In hard times, the idea of community becomes more important than ever and we can find inspiration from the winners of the 100 Best Communities for Young People. Presented by America’s Promise Alliance, a cross-sector partnership of 400 plus corporations, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and advocacy groups, this annual competition showcases outstanding communities that are actively working to increase high school graduation rates and create communities where young people can thrive.
Of the 100 communities being recognized, seven are from California – tied for the most winners alongside Florida. In California, six of the winning communities have large Latino populations ranging from 22 to 65 percent. Many of these communities are located in Southern California.
In September, the Pew Hispanic Center published a study that found Hispanic children now make up the largest group of children living in poverty. According to the report, more than 6 million Hispanic children are living in poverty, compared with 5 million non-Hispanic white children and 4.4 million African American children. Poverty and graduation rates are intimately related.
It is encouraging that six of California’s winning 100 Best communities have higher graduation rates above the Latino national average.
What can we learn from these communities? In Solano County, Calif., the Fairfield-Suisun School District developed an expanded alternate education program to give students who had fallen behind credit-recovery opportunities. In 2010, more than 1,000 students were under-credited, costing the district $1.5 million for remedial courses.
Thanks to the focus and interventions used to capture students that otherwise might fall through the cracks or dropout, the program is projected to increase graduation rates while saving the district more than $340,000.
Helping young people who face a number of challenges is proving effective in other communities. At almost 18 percent, the community of Marina has one of the highest youth poverty rates among California’s seven winning communities, but the third highest graduation rate at 87 percent.
This is in part due to programs such as Marina’s Builders Club, which focuses on providing young people with opportunities to volunteer and serve their community. This community is also simultaneously combating poverty and truancy with its “Breakfast Club” where the local teen center opens early every morning and serves breakfast to more than 100 youth. A healthy meal and a safe place to be before school have led to a 10 percent drop in truancy.
The City of Indio invested $7 million in a state-of-the-art Teen Center. The center provides tutoring and college prep courses, student aid workshops, career and interest inventory assessments, scholarship assistance and the opportunity for college campus visits. When the city experienced a revenue shortfall and possible cutbacks, their commitment was to building their future leaders and they found funding for the Teen Center.
These California communities have discovered that through cross-sector collaboration, early family involvement, a focus on education and prioritizing youth, they can improve Latino graduation rates and give young people additional opportunities to succeed as adults.
Education is a key factor to long-term opportunity and prosperity, and the 100 winning communities are supporting young people to succeed and thrive. I hope we can take a minute and celebrate what they’ve done and learn from their example. In the end, all our communities should be the “best.”
Dr. Elizabeth Molina Morgan is executive director of Grad Nation, a program of America’s Promise Alliance. On September 15, 2011, Dr. Morgan was honored during the 25th Annual Hispanic Heritage Awards at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The 100 Best Program is presented by America’s Promise Alliance and ING.
America's Promise Alliance is a cross-sector partnership of 400 plus corporations, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and advocacy groups, this annual competition showcases outstanding communities that are actively working to increase high school graduation rates and create communities where young people can thrive.