A helping hand

Seymour Community School Corp. will pilot a program to help keep more of its Latino students from dropping out of high school and put them on the path to attend college.

The school system has been awarded a $36,000 Skill UP! grant from the EcO (Economic Opportunities through Education) Network of Southeast Indiana to implement the Latino Post Secondary Educational Achievement program beginning this fall. Bartholomew County also is participating in the pilot.

Both districts have the highest Latino student populations in the 10-county EcO southeast region with Seymour having 22 per- cent corporation wide and Bartholomew having 12.4 percent.

Other counties making up the region are Decatur, Jennings, Franklin, Ripley, Dearborn, Ohio, Switzerland and Jefferson.

Most of the grant money will be used to pay the salary of a part-time college and career readiness coach who will work closely with Latino students, their parents, teachers, administrators and other local programs and organizations for a period of 18 months.

Seymour High School already employs translators and has two ESL

teachers and a classroom aide. Several teachers know enough Spanish to be able to communicate with Latino students on their own and many teachers and support staff have taken Spanish workshops in the summer.

“Crossing the communication barrier is very important,” Principal Greg Prange said. “Students who have been in the United States for three or four years learn English very quickly. Some of our students who have been here since elementary school have very few issues with the language, customs or culture.”

Agencies such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Indiana, Jackson County Plaza Latina, Southern Indiana Hispanic Services, Working for our Dreams 4-H Latino group and local Hispanic ministries are being asked to offer support to help reach the local Latino community.

Career workshops, college visits, tutoring and testing help, assistance in filling out college and scholarship applications, parent engagement and early intervention at the middle school level are all part of the new program which will run through August 2017.

If the program is successful, additional funding for the future may be sought to continue it.

The main goals of the initiative are to help increase the number of Latino students graduating from Seymour High School and help those students successfully navigate the pathway to post-secondary education.

According to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, young Latinos are less likely than their non-Hispanic counterparts to enroll in a four-year college; they are less likely to attend a selective college, less likely to be enrolled in college full time and less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree.

Other measurable outcomes Seymour is hoping to see as a result of the new program include increased school attendance and extracurricular activity participation among Latino students, more Latino students taking the SAT and ACT college entrance exams and AP/dual credit courses and an increase in the number of Latino students making college visits.

Dan Hodge, director of the Jackson County Education Coalition said that with the growing Latino population in Seymour it’s important to include them in all aspects of the community.

The coalition assisted with writing the grant proposal and collecting information on the Latino demographics of the area.

“We were thrilled when the grant got funded,” Hodge said. “We believe the tutoring and mentoring will be extremely valuable, not only for the students but for the parents to also be able to support and help their children achieve career readiness or put them on a college bound path.”

Hodge said often the barrier for Latino families is not knowing what it takes to get to college here or what is truly needed to move up in American society.

Prange said he is excited to be able to offer the program to Latino students and their families.

“This program can help reinforce the culture and the importance of completing high school and learning what information and skills are necessary for students to succeed in the work place or in post-secondary education,” he said.

The high school has a total of 204 Hispanic students, or more than 15 percent of the school’s population.

Although he wasn’t able to provide drop out rate information specifically for Latino students, Prange said those students are more likely to move away from the area and not come back.

They also have a strong work ethic that begins early on in life and is supported by the family, he added. That culture often sees students value employment over education, he said.

“Work is important to them,” he said. “Having a job is important.”

But helping them get post-secondary education and training is what will help Latino students compete with their fellow students and land higher-paying jobs in the workforce, he added.

Prange said he is proud of the school’s diversity and wants to do whatever it takes to make sure all students are successful in high school and after graduation.

“We have the flags of over 20 countries hanging in our hallway,” he said. “These flags represent the homeland of our students. While our students come in different sizes, shapes, languages and colors, they are all Seymour Owls.”

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.