Young Men of Color Leading in the Classroom

Growing up in San Luis, Ariz., a town located near the Mexican border, Jorge Ontiveros never imagined he’d want to become a middle school teacher. His goal was to “follow the money” and become a lawyer or businessman, just like many young men his age had wanted to do. To his surprise, what was initially intended to be a short-term job as a high school football coach, quickly changed his perspective on the teaching profession.

Now in his fifth year of teaching sixth graders at Palomino Intermediate School in Phoenix, Ontiveros is just one of two Hispanic male teachers in his school. Across the country, just seven percent of teachers are Hispanic, and only two percent are males. For the last decade, Hispanic students have represented the largest minority group in our schools—one of every four students in the nation’s K-12 schools. With the Hispanic population projected to represent 60 percent of the population growth by 2050, the importance of recruiting teachers that reflect the diverse student body of our country is not only necessary but critical.

At a time when the high school graduation rate for Latino males is 60 percent and the college enrollment rate is 34 percent, having a teacher that reflects his or her student body may lead to better attendance, fewer suspensions and higher test scores. Ontiveros teaches in the same community he grew up in and he believes his Mexican, Spanish-speaking upbringing allows him to connect to his students and their parents. “Being able to relate and ultimately communicate with parents and students effectively is crucial to the success of the student, both inside and outside of my classroom.”  

The U.S. Department of Education also believes in the importance of increasing the number of diverse and qualified teachers in the classroom. Last week, Secretary Duncan participated in the launch of a national teacher recruitment campaign to raise the nation’s awareness on the need to recruit the next generation of great teachers, particularly minority men. Providing students with a diverse representation of teachers who are role models in their communities will be a key component of this campaign’s success.

Ontiveros believes that young men don’t see enough male teachers to consider a career in teaching. “I want them to see a successful, young, male Hispanic teacher, so I wear a dress shirt and tie every day to show that I am proud of what I do,” Ontiveros said. He also asks his students to dress-up each Thursday for what he calls “Professional’s Day.” “Their job is to be good students,” he told us. “They show up to class and do their part, so I treat them professionally, calling them Miss or Mister.”

Ontiveros may have decided not to “follow the money” but being a role model and teaching and coaching students has fulfilled him in more meaningful ways. He talked about his day, his routine, and we listened and couldn’t help but notice the passion and commitment seeping through every word. Teaching clearly has become not only his career, but his life’s mission.

Alejandra Ceja is the executive director for the White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanics

Summer Melt

It’s summer time! Across the nation thousands of recent high school graduates are enjoying their last summer before their first college semester. They are submitting deposits, selecting courses, packing, and anxiously awaiting their first day. However, a large portion of students from low-income communities will have a very different summer experience. Despite being college eligible and in some cases even enrolled, these students will not attend in the fall and will instead “melt” away during the summer.

Graduation CapsThis is called “summer melt”. Nationally about 10 to 20 percent of college eligible students melt away, most of which are low-income minority students planning to enroll in community college. In the Southwest district that includes Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, 44 percent of students melt away. The melt was 19 percent for four-year institutions and 37 percent for community colleges in 2011. The lower a student’s income, the more likely they are to experience summer melt because they lack the necessary resources and support. This means that we are losing future Latino leaders and innovators over the summer. We cannot allow this to happen.  A higher education is not just a pathway to opportunity, it is a prerequisite.

This is an important issue for the Latino community because the jobs of the 21st century will require some workforce training or postsecondary education.  As more Latinos graduate from high school every year we need to ensure that they not only access higher education but are prepared to graduate. By 2050 about 30 percent of the US population will be Latino. Also for a majority of low-income minority students, community college is often the selected path to obtain a college degree. So we must address summer melt to increase the number of Latinos earning two and four-year degrees.

This issue can be alleviated via simple measures at home during summer. Parents, speak frequently with your child about college and help them prepare for their fall semester. Encourage them to attend their freshman orientation and encourage them to interact with friends who are enrolled and attending college. Furthermore, encourage your student to remain in contact with school counselors, teachers, and college administrators over summer to ensure that their questions are answered. Students, make sure that you get organized over summer and stay on top of all deadlines. Remember, you are already accepted but you cannot get your college degree if you do not show up.

Alejandra Ceja is the executive director for the White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanics

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