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Testimony Before the Board of Education: 4/12/12

David Rodriguez

Madame Chairman, esteemed members of the board; I thank you for allowing me the opportunity to address you this evening. My name is David Rodriguez, Board Member of Conexiones, a father of two children who are fortunate to be in our school system, and a lovely wife who volunteers as much of her available time with our children's schools.

I along with others come here before you to make our case in light of the challenge faced by Howard County and the burden of absorbing a $17 million shift of annual teacher pension costs. The Howard County Public School System is clearly burdened by the state's decision and we come here tonight to insure that a committed budget line item, in support of a new Hispanic Achievement Liaison position, is not eliminated.

We are at a very precarious crossroad and the path we choose will make all the difference. For the first time ever, the Hispanic segment of our population represents the largest and youngest minority group in our country. When we focus on Maryland and specifically Howard County, we see the same rapid growth of Hispanics in our communities and in the halls of our schools. How we address this rapid growth in our Hispanic student population will make a huge difference in their ability to succeed in school and thereafter. Most are U.S. Citizens, first and second generation Hispanic Americans born here. There are many who come from abroad in search of something better, an education, and a will to work. Their curiosity is the same one that brought countless millions from all over the world. How they are welcomed in our communities, houses of worship, business establishments and institutions of learning is part and parcel of the American experiment and success. This is all very important in the realization of our most basic human right – the pursuit of happiness; for the young it starts in earnest when they walk into a school.

Many of you sitting here today have walked the talk with us and have supported our hope that one day the existing achievement gap will collapse on itself, that the dropout rate will be completely wiped out and that every Hispanic student that graduates will be college and career ready.

The Hispanic Achievement Liaisons currently in place and the many more needed are a key component to the success of our Hispanic students. Many of our Hispanic students come challenged by social, cultural, language, and economic dislocation, the Hispanic Achievement Liaison becomes a bridge to their acculturation into our mainstream culture. The Hispanic Achievement Liaison is more than just a staff member who connects with the students; the Hispanic Achievement Liaison is an indispensable member assisting the school, from receptionist to principal, in connecting with the families of our Hispanic students and connecting the school with the community our students come from. The Hispanic Achievement Liaison is a conduit to our wider Hispanic community and insures the connection between student, school, and community is strengthened and sustained.

What is the price of price of a disengaged Hispanic student? What is the cost of one Hispanic student dropout – for that matter any dropout regardless of ethnicity, race, or gender!

Here are the facts:

  • In the schools where Hispanic Achievement Liaisons are assigned, the percentage of Hispanic students receiving FARMS, is very high, up to 78%.
  • In working with the student population that receives FARMS, the faculty and other staff constantly have to adjust their approach and engagement with this student segment; this poses a unique challenge which is alleviated by the Hispanic Achievement Liaison who becomes an invaluable partner.
    • Add the language and cultural barriers, and this becomes even more complex.
  • The Howard County Public School System and school staff is determined to accelerate the academic achievement of all Hispanic students and they need all the support they can get.

Let deeds now, your commitment to the budgeted Hispanic Achievement Liaison, reflect your support to help the Hispanic students in need, the school in need, and the community that will benefit from your decision to keep the position and not cut it in the face of such a challenge. Here with me today, are members of the community who want to be seen and recognized in support of our plea. Thank you.

Kevin Moreno

Good evening.

My name is Kevin Moreno. I am a junior, and the President of Hispanic Voices, the after school club for Hispanic students at Wilde Lake High School. I am an immigrant from El Salvador, and will be the first person in my family to graduate from college.

I would like to talk to you about the value of having a full time Hispanic Achievement Liaison at our school.

Mrs. Marilyn Villanueva Barker is an amazing human being. She works tirelessly for the academic advancement of all Hispanic students in the building. Students who are at risk, and students who are taking advanced courses, like myself. She collaborates with our teachers and counselors, so they can serve us better. She is in constant communication with our parents to make sure they know what is happening with us, and to give them tips as to how to help us succeed academically.

Mrs. Barker has worked with us, so we can have a voice as a student group at Wilde Lake High School. She facilitates our Hispanic youth club, and is always creating opportunities for us to associate with other students. She knows our strengths and our weaknesses, and encourages us to do our best. She also gives us good advice as to how to get to college, and connects us with volunteer opportunities in the community, like the Latino Health Fair at the hospital.

I personally have benefited in many ways by having Mrs. Barker at our school. She is somebody I can count on for guidance and support. She recruited me to attend the Hispanic Youth Institute, sponsored by the Hispanic College Fund. Through that experience, I have access to scholarship information, and I am now a member of the Howard County Public School System's Hispanic Youth Leadership Team. Being a member of this team, has given me the opportunity to get to know Hispanic students from other high schools, and to serve the community through the Hispanic Youth Mini-Symposium.

I have met Hispanic students who attend other high schools that have a Hispanic Achievement Liaison. I see that they have the same special relationship with their Liaison that I have with Mrs. Barker. Therefore, I respectfully ask that you approve the full time Hispanic Achievement Liaison position that is in the budget for next year. I want more students to have the opportunities that I have had through the Hispanic Achievement Program.

Thank you for your time.

Sofia Zenker

Good evening.

My name is Sofia Zenker. I am the mother of two students at Phelps Luck Elementary School. My husband is the President of the school's PTA. I am an immigrant from Perú, and went to school in a system totally different from those in the United States.

Tonight I would like to share with you the role that Mrs. Thania Rey plays at our school, as the full time Hispanic Achievement Liaison.

Mrs. Rey is an invaluable resource for the staff and for the parents. She works very hard assisting the school's staff, so they can be more effective when working with Hispanic students and their families. She knows the reality of the Hispanic community in the area, and is constantly serving as a bridge between the school and the home.

Mrs. Rey is an excellent advocate for the academic advancement of our Hispanic students. She knows how to identify the many gifts and talents that the students have, which could easily go unnoticed because of cultural or socioeconomic differences.

There are many Hispanic parents at our school that do not speak English. Mrs. Rey is their link to the school. She is constantly going above and beyond, not just conveying information to the parents, but coaching them as to how to use the information in a way that will help their children succeed in school. She is also very well informed as to the resources available in the community where parents can be referred to. The parents are very proud and grateful for having somebody like Mrs. Rey representing the Hispanic community.

Mrs. Rey has helped me personally in many ways. My youngest daughter was having a hard time with homework. It was not a pleasant experience. Mrs. Rey took the time to explain to me that, just telling my daughter that she had to do her homework, would not make a difference. She provided me with strategies to turn homework time into fun time. Her advice has made a big difference.

Mrs. Rey also invited me to participate in the Howard County Public School System's Parent Academy in Spanish. Participating in the Parent Academy has been an informative and fulfilling experience. My two daughters are in the first and third grades, and I am now better prepared to look ahead into middle school, high school and college, and help them to succeed. I have also had the opportunity to meet other Spanish speaking parents from my school and other schools, and support each other. As graduates of the Parent Academy, we have now been able to organize ourselves as a group to participate in different activities at school.

After graduating from the Parent Academy, I received a personal invitation to participate in the International Parent Leadership Program. This gave me an opportunity to get to know parents from the different cultures that enrich our school system, and learn from each other.

Through the Parent Academy, I have met other parents that have a Hispanic Achievement Liaison at their school. I realize the important role that the Liaison plays in their lives and the lives of their children.

I respectfully ask you to approve the full time Hispanic Achievement Liaison position that is in the budget for this coming school year, so more students, and their families, can benefit from the advantages the Hispanic Achievement Program has to offer.

Thank you very much.