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History

Conexiones was established in 2000 in response to the needs of Hispanic children in the Howard County Public School System. The 2000 census reported that nationally 44% of high school Hispanic students were dropping out of school.  In the Howard County Public Schools, Hispanic students were the lowest academic ethnic group annually since the middle 1990s. At the time, Hispanic student enrollment was under 1.5% and the number of Hispanic faculty and staff in the school system was negligible. At the time, the growing Hispanic student and family population was not represented.

Dr. Murray Simon and Reverend Walter Rodríguez were cofounders of Conexiones to bring attention to the unique needs and talents of Hispanic students.  Dr. Simon is a retired educator who spent 14 years of his career in five Latin American countries.  He served as a resident advisor to the Ministries of Education  of Colombia, Dominican Republic, Bolivia, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Conexiones was incorporated as a non-profit in the State of Maryland in early 2001.  It became an educational partner of the school system in January 2003.  In the year 2005, the Internal Revenue Service approved Conexiones as a charitable trust and as a non-profit organization.

The organization was established with the support of the then Howard County Public School System Superintendent, John O'Rourke. The next Superintendent, Dr. Sidney Cousin, was a staunch supporter of Conexiones and its objectives during his tenure.  Conexiones builds on this tradition and on October 9, 2012, met for the first time with Dr. Renee A. Foose, the new Superintendent of Schools.

The Howard County Board of Education meets with the Board of Conexiones twice a year to discuss Hispanic student graduation and dropout rates and academic achievement. Meetings with school officials and participation in the Equity Council, District Planning Team, Operating Budget Review Committee and other policy and advisory boards occur throughout the year.

The first two employees selected to work with Hispanic families were  assigned to Running Brook Elementary School in the late 1990s, before Conexiones was organized, under the supervision of Deborah Espitia, Chair of the system's Foreign (now World) Language Department.

As a result of advocacy by Conexiones, recognition of the growth in Hispanic enrollment, and support from the elected Board of Education, the school system became the first in the State of Maryland to establish a Hispanic Achievement Specialist. The position was approved by the Board of Education in 2006 and Mrs. Elisa Montalvo appointed as the Hispanic Achievement Liaison in 2007. Thanks to her leadership and extraordinary commitment, along with the support of the administration and Board of Education, there are currently Hispanic Achievement Liaisons in several schools with a high percentage of Hispanic students. Appropriate staffing, commensurate with the academic achievement and income need of Hispanic families, continues to be a critical need for the Howard County School System and a goal of Conexiones. 

Hispanic representation in positions across all areas of school and central office staffing continues to be a challenge for the school system and a source of concern for Conexiones.

To meet the educational needs of Hispanic students at all levels, Conexiones helped initiate a number of programs to provide assistance and support to encourage students to complete high school, to consider higher education opportunities, and to be successful in their career choices. Conexiones has been an advocate for changes in the policies, practices, and personnel of the Howard County Public School System, for the purpose of improving the performance and the educational outcomes for Hispanic students.

Dr. Murray Simon served as its first president from its inception in 2000 until 2007. Jannette O'Neill-González is the Executive Director of Conexiones.

Below are some highlights in Conexiones history:

The first Conexiones Convocation took place in Kahler Hall in May 2002.  Eleven Hispanic students were recognized and honored.  All members of the Board of Education and Superintendent John O'Rourke were present.  Parents of honorees and members of the community attended.  The event was embellished with Spanish poetry, music and dance.

Between the years 2002 and 2014, Conexiones recognized and honored over 650 Hispanic high school seniors in the various high schools in the County.  Convocations were held in various high schools.  The numerical range of honorees were from eleven to 83.

CONVOCATION guest speakers and entertainers have enriched each annual program.  Among the guest speakers were Dr. Nancy Grasmick, State Superintendent of Department of Education in Maryland; neurosurgeon Surgeon Dr. Alfredo Quiñones; Luis Borunda, founder of United States Hispanic Youth Entrepreneurial Education;   Dr. Rodolfo Fernández, a local physician;  Rogelio Gómez, Associate Commissioner for International Policy at the Social Security Administration; Dr. Roberto Blanco, a physician and son of Virgilio Blanco; and, in 2008, Y. Maria Welch, Chair of the Governor's Commission on Hispanic Affairs, Carlos Lopez, President of the Maryland Society of Hispanic Engineers, Ernesto Garcia, Senior Public Affairs Officer, Social Security Administration, and Jose A. Sanchez, Battalion Chief, Howard County Fire and Rescue Services.

  • 2002:  Conexiones received $10,000 in seed money support from the Columbia Foundation to establish its newsletter and scholarship fund.
  • 2004:  Latin American Parents Associations (LAPA) organized at one middle school and two high schools.  Conexiones formed LAPA (Latin American Parents Association) in various high schools.
  • 2004 to Present - Hispanic Student Clubs established, initially through Conexiones and now sponsored by school staff, at several middle and high schools. 
  • 2005:  The LAPA program expanded with six additional chapters at middle and high schools.
  • 2005-2006:  Conexiones partnered with the Columbia Orchestra, which provided free tickets to Hispanic students who met educational standards, to encourage participation in the arts
  • April 2006:  Dr. Murray Simon, founder of Conexiones, honored as Educator of the Year by then-Governor Robert Ehrlich during the 2006 Hispanic Heritage Awards ceremony. He won this award in recognition of his work with Hispanic students to improve their educational opportunities and encourage high school graduation.
  • December 2006:  Conexiones awarded a $5,000 grant from the Columbia Foundation to help with operating expenses.
  • January 2007:  Conexiones partnered with Guilford Elementary School to foster Hispanic student success. Conexiones coordinated bilingual high school students to serve as tutors and mentors for Hispanic elementary students through "homework clubs". The organization also offered evening information sessions in Spanish and English for parents and guardians about education.
  • June 2007:  Murray Simon stepped down as president of Conexiones. Feli Solá-Carter elected the second President of Conexiones.
  • November 2007: Conexiones hosted a College Financing Seminar for Hispanic families at Oakland Mills High School.
  • February 2008: Conexiones initiated a grant program for the Hispanic Student Clubs in middle and high schools.
  • April 2008: Conexiones, in collaboration with the Hispanic Achievement Specialist and Liaisons, participated in the first Howard County Public School System Hispanic Youth Symposium.
  • May 2008:  At the 2008 Convocation at Atholton High School, 46 Hispanic students honored with awards ranging from $50 to $300. One student received a $1000 scholarship in memory of Dr. Edwin Rosas, a Hispanic surgeon, resident of Howard County, and father of Christopher Rosas, teacher at Glenelg High School.   For the first time, a GPA of 2.0 was required to be recognized.
  • June 2008:   In partnership with the Hispanic Achievement Specialist and Liaisons, Conexiones supported the participation of 43 Hispanic students from Howard County in the Hispanic Youth Symposium of Maryland. Now titled the Hispanic Youth Institute, participation continues through 2012.
  • November 2008: Conexiones issues its second round of grants to several Hispanic Student Clubs
  • June 2009 through the present: The Convocation is now the Annual Hispanic Achievement Awards Program, and the minimum GPA is 2.5. Students apply for recognition and monetary awards on the basis of Academic Excellence, Community Service and Leadership, and Overcoming Obstacles. A special award for the student who best represents a combination of Academic Achievement, Community Service and Leadership is established in honor of Feli Solá-Carter's exemplary career upon her retirement from the Social Security Administration in 2009.
  • September, 2009: Conexiones is selected as the Non-Profit Organization of the Year by the Governor's Commission on Hispanic Affairs.
  • October, 2009-2011: Conexiones hosts the "Café, Cultura, and Mucho Azúcar" cultural celebration and fundraiser.
  • June, 2010-2014: Conexiones hosts an End-of-Year Picnic to bring together Hispanic students entering the 9th-11 grades.

From 2000 through 2007, Conexiones produced annual Hispanic enrollment studies. With the enactment of the No Child Left Behind legislation, Conexiones has access to the enrollment data, which as of September, 2012 reflected 4,555 students representing 8.8% of the student population.

The current goals for Conexiones, as presented to the Board of Education on December 3, 2012, are:

  1. High academic expectations and achievement for all Hispanic students
  2. Decreased dropout rate of Hispanic students
  3. Increased participation of Hispanic students in the Gifted and Talented Program and Advanced Placement courses.
  4. Increased staffing of Hispanic Achievement Liaisons in proportion to the growth in the Hispanic student population.