Conference empowers Latino students to lead the way
The graduation rate for Latino students in the Cherry Creek School District rose to 74.5% in 2011, up from 69.0% in 2010. The district attributes that significant increase to its ongoing emphasis on Excellence and Equity – raising the academic achievement of all students and closing the achievement gap. Those efforts include strengthening the partnership between schools and Latino parents and students, such as Grandview High School senior Alejandro Salazar.
For the past year, he has served on both the GHS and the district PASS (Partnership for Academically Successful Students) committees, which are working to support the academic success of students of color. In October, he and four other CCSD high school students attended the Courageous Conversations Summit in San Francisco, California. The summit, sponsored by the Pacific Education Group, was designed for educators who are working on achievement gap issues.
“We have a lot of adults talking about this, but not a lot of kids,” said Brooke Gregory, executive director of high school education for Cherry Creek Schools, who accompanied the students to the conference. “The purpose was to empower the students to explore the problem and be part of the solution.”
The students – Maria Loreto, senior, Eaglecrest HS; Jemmie Mata, junior, Overland HS; Brayan Molina, junior, Overland HS; Luis Pasion, senior, Cherry Creek HS; and Salazar – worked long hours at the conference, meeting with educators and advocates, and gathering information to take back to their peers, schools and communities.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to do something more than just school work or volunteerism,” said Salazar. “Being around educators, administrators and parents so passionate about fixing the inequalities in our public education system was incredible. I came back empowered, ready to fight for something that is crucially important for the success of our district, and more importantly, our students.”
The students then began sharing what they had learned. They have made presentations to district administrators and principals, teachers and parents, and fellow students.
Salazar, who plans to attend Brown University or Colorado College and eventually become a pediatric heart surgeon, is also working with younger Latino students to encourage them to pursue higher education.
Latino students make up the second-largest and most rapidly-growing segment of the CCSD student population. Historically, they have had the lowest graduation rate. However, that is now changing, thanks to the efforts of students like Salazar, as well as the parents, teachers, administrators and community members who are working together to increase student success.
“Our goal is to increase the Latino graduation rate by another 5% in 2012,” said Gregory. “That is an ambitious goal, but it’s one we believe we can meet.”