By Lizzeth Mancilla
Engagement and Policy Intern
In this webinar, we assembled another statewide panel of Latino thought leaders, community leaders, and educators to share their perspectives on what is working, and not working, in their communities and what state legislators can do to better support Latino students. Panelists included Dr. Susana Reyes, Assistant Superintendent of Operations for the Pasco School District and Member of the Washington State Board of Education; Dr. Nydia A. Martinez, Director of the Chicana/o/x Studies Program, Academic Director of the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), and Assistant Professor of History at Eastern Washington University (EWU); and Tanya Medina, Alianza Youth Leadership Co-Manager with the Latino Community Fund.
On what is working and not working in their community during these challenging times
Dr. Reyes started off the conversation on a positive note. She went into detail on how the Pasco School District has been successful in supporting student needs. For example, they have been providing in-person learning for students receiving special education services or those who don’t have an ideal living situation, offering discounted prices for Wi-Fi, providing food services, communicating with families in both English and Spanish, and creating web pages with videos that teach parents how to use the platforms being used during school. However, one challenge families living in more agricultural areas are experiencing is a lack of internet access.
Similarly to Dr. Reyes, Dr. Martinez has also experienced a series of highs and lows at Eastern Washington University in the past year. She found that EWU did an exceptional job transforming into an online university as students, teachers, and staff were able to switch over to an online setting in a matter of weeks. She highlighted that EWU has also been doing great in responding to student needs by supporting students who don’t have access to internet and technology, providing mental health services, virtual labs, offering scholarships, and collecting extra funds to support students.
However, one challenge EWU is facing is running with less funding. “We have lost a lot of funds so they’re asking us to do more with less. That is something that has affected us very much because we are offering services to low-income students and communities,” said Dr. Martinez. EWU is in the process of converting to a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), meaning that within 5 years at most, 25% of students will be from Hispanic descent. Therefore, less funding greatly impacts them since the Latino population is one of the communities struggling the most during this pandemic.
Despite the shared difficulties of living in this pandemic, Tanya Medina found that students are finding comfort in social media platforms. In Medina’s community, there are students who stay home and take care of their younger siblings and cousins while their parents, essential workers, are out working their shifts. For example, TikTok has served as an outlet for students to express themselves through one-minute videos. In addition, TikTok, as well as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, has become a place where students can share their experiences, bond, and find a sense of community.
On what legislators can do at a state-level to better support Latino students in the state
Dr. Reyes hopes that legislators are listening to conversations such as these webinars, where the Latino population is sharing the challenges they’re facing. Many Latino families consist of essential workers, whether they’re working in agriculture, hospitals, grocery stores, restaurants, etc. But it’s not only the parents who are working. Students are working on top of going to school and caring for their younger siblings at home in order to support their families. Therefore, Dr. Reyes asks that legislators take Latino students and families into consideration. “If there are conversations between legislators about resources and funds for schools, I hope they keep in mind that we have a population of students who are very important to families… and are doing their part,” she said. “It is our turn now, as adults, who have the ability to provide more focused support on these existing problems to do so.”
Tanya Medina asks that legislators take a step back and identify who has really been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. One problem Washington is currently facing is achieving digital equity. She finds it upsetting that this has been occurring for a while, but it took a pandemic for our community to notice it exists and/or take action. There are students who don’t have access to a computer, to the internet, or the necessary accommodations to be successful. “I urge students, youth, and families to contact their representatives. Similarly, representatives should be working for us, they should be seeking us. But, it’s important that we seize all the opportunities for the students during the pandemic because no student should be left behind,” she added.
Dr. Martinez suggested several ways legislators, educational institutions, and communities can better support Latino students in the state and move forward. She noted that the first thing we can do is to prepare students to do jobs that don’t exist or are about to be created. Millions of people have been left unemployed as a result of this pandemic and are needing to go back and learn something new. People need to know how to adapt, have a strong work ethic, and be culturally flexible. Therefore, she calls for legislators to recognize that the Latino population is not deficient, but full of potential.
There are also countless ways schools and colleges can help support students during these times. Dr. Martinez asks that colleges create more flexible scholarships that are tailored to students’ needs right now. Rather than just focusing on academics, they should be more holistic and encompass various needs such as food and travel. They should also be readily available without impacting their financial aid. Lastly, she believes that colleges need to create stronger connections between industries and communities. They need to be cognizant of what their communities require. “We want to create professionals that will serve our communities. We want to prepare these students so they can be citizens that are going to be more effective, diverse, and will contribute to our society,” she said.
Watch the full LEVinar here (Note: English interpretation is available by enabling closed captions).
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