Hispanic Teacher Profile, Arlene Perez

Arlene Perez

Arlene Perez

Mathematics  Middle School Teacher in Washington, DC

Growing up in Pico Rivera, California to two Mexican immigrants, Arlene knew the true value of a great education.  She became the first in her family to graduate from college. Having been a product of the Pico Rivera public school system, she understood the struggles English Language Learners faced and the critical roles teachers play in student lives to go to college.  Arlene received her bachelors at the University of California, Santa Barbara in Political Science and Philosophy in 2011, but realized that if she wanted to pursue a career in Education Policy, she needed first-hand experience as the role of an educator. That summer, she joined Teach for America in Washington D.C. as a middle school math teacher where she taught math entirely in Spanish to an amazing group of students who came from diverse backgrounds. These students mirror her experiences as a child since they are also first generation, English Language Learners of Latino descent. Teaching math not only allowed her to see that policy has a major influence on her students’ lives, but it also gave her the opportunity to notice the positive impact a Latina role model can have on their academic success. Because she has seen the lack of Latinos in STEM education, she is continuously striving to have her students fall in love with math by leading a coding course, a robotics team, having a Parent Math Course for Spanish speaking parents, and getting her team of 7th graders ready for this winter’s DC Math Quiz Bowl. Moreover, alongside her Teach for America coach, Arlene created Teach for America’s La Familia in DC to build a community of Latino educators in the DC region and aided with the recruitment efforts in DC and in LA to increase the number of Latino applicants to Teach for America. Arlene serves on the board for Teach for America’s The Collective and Young Alumni Board. She currently teaches 7th grade Math at Oyster Adams Bilingual School in Washington D.C.

Why do you teach? When I hear the terrifying statistics about Latinos regarding high school completion rates, college graduation rates and students pursuing STEM majors, it is the fuel that drives me to teach my students every day. These statistics are not simply numbers, they represent me, they represent family members, and they represent my students. I teach because I want to make sure that my students know that I was once in their shoes and they can achieve anything their hearts desire. My students need someone who can advocate for them and show them the way to college.

What do you love about teaching? I absolutely adore my students! They are the most creative, intelligent, unique, and hilarious human beings you will ever meet. Being so far away from home, these students have become my family. I love that we share so much knowledge and culture in our classroom. They are truly the reason I teach.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? Definitely! My 5th grade teacher Mrs. Lomeli was the main reason I went into teaching because she advocated for me to exit out of a bilingual classroom (knowing I would later be tracked in middle school) and how that affected my chances of attaining AP courses by the time I would enter high school. Moreover, my high school Calculus teacher Mr. Francis is truly my role model when it comes to teaching math. He would stay at school tutoring my classmates and I until 8pm at times and truly believed in me when I didn’t. He was someone who was there for his students no matter what and always told us how we were smarter than a calculator. Because of him, I make sure to have strong relationships with my students so that they know that I will always be there for them and even till this day, I continuously remind them that they are smarter than a calculator.


Highlighting Hispanic Education Year-Round

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

It’s the middle of October. The leaves are changing colors, baseball playoffs are under way, and Hispanic Heritage month – celebrated each year from September 15 to October 15 – just came to close. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the rich history and the centuries’-worth of contributions the Hispanic community – a diverse community with roots in Mexico, the Caribbean, Spain and Central and South America – has made to this country.

His panic students graduating

We first began celebrating Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968, and in 1988 the observance of Hispanic Heritage Month was enacted as law by the U.S. Congress. But the impact of this country’s Hispanic community has never been greater – and the importance of promoting success for Hispanic learners has never mattered more – than right now.

Today, Hispanics are the largest, youngest and fastest-growing minority group. Yet our college attainment rates are among the lowest. A college education continues to be the ticket to the middle class, and improving educational outcomes for the Hispanic community is vitally important for the common good. In America, we fall or rise together. The success of Hispanic students is directly tied to the success of our democracy, and our ability to compete in a global economy.

President Obama’s North Star Goal – that this country will again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world – depends on the success of every single student, whatever his or her background or circumstance. The President understands the crucial role of the Hispanic community and has continued to expand opportunities for them and all students. Whether it is our work through the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, the My Brother’s Keeper initiative or our support of Hispanic Serving institutions, this Department is committed to supporting this community and foster its educational success.

And we’ve seen encouraging signs of progress. The Hispanic high school dropout rate among 16-24 year olds fell from 28 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2011. Hispanic college enrollment has grown by more than 1.1. million students. In fact, college enrollment is up more for Hispanics than any other group. In 2012, the enrollment rate among Hispanics 18-24 years old was over 49 percent, up from 31 percent in 2002.

Still, there’s more we must do. As a country our high school graduation rate has reached an all-time high of 80 percent, but the rate for Hispanics still lags behind. In addition, African American and Hispanic students account for 40 percent of high school youth, yet make up just 25 percent of students taking advanced placement classes. Hispanic youth are also disproportionately represented in school-related arrests and disciplinary actions.

During the Department’s kick-off event for National Hispanic Heritage Month, Secretary Duncan said, “we need to make sure that the opportunities we offer every single child in this country are the opportunities we would want to offer our own children.”

This call to action comes at a watershed moment: for the first time in history, a majority of our nation’s public school students are minority students. Hispanic students alone make up 25 percent of all public school students in our schools.

Although Hispanic Heritage month is over, educating Hispanic learners – and all students – is important all year round. That’s the one sure way to reach our North Star goal, preserve the promise of the American Dream, and have the world’s best educated, most competitive workforce.

Robert Gomez is the director of higher education outreach at the U.S. Department of Education, and the son of Mexican immigrants.

The Promise of a Skilled Latino Community

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize the many contributions Hispanics have made and continue to make to ensure this great nation’s vitality. Hispanics provide a profound and constructive influence on our country through their resilient commitment to family, faith, hard work, and service. They have enriched and wrought our national character with centuries-old traditions that reflect their multiethnic and multicultural customs.

According to the U.S. Census, in 2013 the Hispanic population in the United States reached 54 million, making people of Hispanic origin 17 percent of the nation’s population. Hispanics are the largest, youngest, and fastest growing minority group, and will represent 70 percent of our nation’s population growth between 2015 and 2060. By 2060, they are projected to account for nearly a third of the workforce.

The strength of the American economy is inextricably linked to the strength of the Latino workforce. Education has long been known as a gateway to achievement. Hispanic success in education and in the labor market, therefore, is of immediate and long‐term importance for all of us. In order to meet the future demands of the growing workforce, we must collectively invest in educating this growing population. However, Hispanic students currently face numerous challenges to educational achievement, both at the K-12 and postsecondary levels.

While the dropout rate for Hispanics has been cut in half over the last decade, too many continue to drop out. Of those who do complete high school, many are not sufficiently equipped for college and are at greater risk for remediation than their peers. At the same time, college completion rates for Hispanics remain low and large numbers of Hispanic adults lack the instruction or literacy skills they need to advance their careers. They likewise are less likely to have taken job-or career-related courses, with the exception of basic education classes, such as English as a second language.

As the fastest growing population, the Hispanic community holds the key to the President’s 2020 goal of once again having the best educated, most competitive workforce in the world. Enrollment of minority students in higher education has increased significantly over the past 20 years, up from just 20 percent of all undergraduates in the fall of 1990 to 40 percent in the fall of 2012. Community college enrollment among Hispanics reached a record high and continues to increase. In 2012, the college enrollment rate among 18-to-24-year old Hispanic high school graduates was over 49 percent, up from 31 percent in 2002. Hispanics are currently the largest minority group on college campuses across the nation, representing 17 percent of all college goers. Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) are affording vital education opportunities and play a pivotal role in satisfying our obligation to the rising group of Hispanic visionaries, entrepreneurs, artists, and scholars. HSIs then, where more than half of America’s Hispanic undergraduates attend, are critical to increasing the college enrollment, retention, and graduation rates of this expanding population.

Many Americans, including Hispanic and immigrant populations, lack the skills to access high-wage, high-demand jobs. In October 2013, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics and its international partner, the Organization for Economic Cooperation for Development released the results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIACC). PIACC tested adult skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments to find that despite a relatively high level of educational qualifications, the basic skills of adults in the United States are relatively weak. The findings showed that 36 million, or one in six adults between the ages of 16 and 65, could benefit from improved skills. 43 percent of Hispanic adults have low literacy skills, compared with only 10 percent of whites. The basic skills issue affects the Hispanic community in profound ways, in part given the scarcity of resources in high-need areas.

The demand for jobs in the U.S. that require postsecondary education continues to increase.  At current higher education graduation rates, the U.S. has the potential to experience an increasingly large professional skills gap. Given the Hispanic population’s anticipated growth, these two trends reveal a significant need for a multilingual workforce. Many of these graduates will need to come from the multi-cultural, U.S. Hispanic population. The U.S. higher education system must be prepared to meet the dual challenge of increasing graduation rates and supplying more bilingual graduates who will in turn drive our workforce.

Youth’s and adults’ foundation skills impact local, regional, and national competitiveness. Skills are vital components of healthy, safe families and civic engagement, and are the building blocks of economic development and growth. Continued improvements in education achievement for Latinos are critical to ensuring that our youth are academically equipped to meet the challenges of the future.

Because skills matter to many quality-of-life issues, raising Americans’ skill levels and those of our fastest growing population will require a collective commitment. Therefore, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education are partnering to strengthen the nation by expanding educational opportunities, improving educational outcomes for Hispanics of all ages, and by helping to ensure that all Hispanics receive a complete and competitive education that prepares them for college, a career, and productive and satisfying lives. Join us in this vital effort for the immediate and long-term future success of our nation. Together, we can celebrate the progress of the Hispanic community, work to make skills everyone’s business, and help fulfill America’s Future.

Alejandra Ceja is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics and Johan Uvin is Acting Assistant Secretary of the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education

Hispanic Heritage Teacher Profile, Amadis Velez


Amadis Velez

World History & Expository Writing High School Teacher in San Francisco, CA

Amadis Velez was born and raised in Berkeley, California and lives in San Francisco’s Mission District. He earned his BA in Psychology and Spanish Literature from UC Berkeley and his JD from George Washington University along with an MA in International Studies. He obtained his teaching credential from San Francisco State University, where he also serves as a mentoring teacher for aspiring teaching candidates. Amadis began his career working as a voting rights attorney at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF). In 2007, Amadis found a new calling as a world history and expository writing teacher at Mission High School in San Francisco. He specializes in teaching newcomer students from all nationalities on how to navigate the complex and nuanced process of admission to an American university.  In addition to teaching, Amadis proudly serves as the faculty sponsor of the Awaken Dreamers Club that seeks equal opportunity and access for students who encounter barriers because of their immigration status. In his summers, he also worked as the co-director of Aim High at Urban Promise Academy in the Fruitvale district of Oakland, California.

Why do you teach? I teach so my students can have equal access to higher education. I teach to help my students find their own voice. I teach because I am needed as an advocate, a mentor, and an instructor.

What do you love about teaching? I relish in the direct and absolute honesty of high school students. I love working with recently arrived immigrant youth who cling to the dream of making a better life for themselves and their families. I appreciate the subtle process of building trust and respect, and then encouraging my students to reach heights they never imagined. Most of all, I love sitting behind a student when they open an offer of admission from a university and thinking “si se puede”.

Was there a teacher who inspired you? I was fortunate to have been taught history by Mr. David DeHart at Albany High School. His classes were inspirational and controversial and he demanded that I reach a higher bar. When I graduated I knew it was only a matter of time before I would follow in his footsteps. As I continue to develop my teaching practice, I am fortunate to count on the support of Mr. Robert Roth, an experienced colleague in the Mission High history department. He has taught me to juggle a multitude of responsibilities while always remaining focused on the essential and fair rigor that we must demand of all our students.


Hispanic Heritage Teacher Profile, Mari Medina

Mari Medina

Mari Medina

Spanish Immersion Teacher in Takoma Park, MD

Mari is a dedicated and passionate educator. She currently teaches in the Spanish Immersion program at Rolling Terrace Elementary school as a first grade teacher. Both of her parents are from the island of Dominican Republic. Although Mari was born and raised in the United States, her family maintained a strong sense of their heritage and culture to ensure a purposefully balance within in their home. Mari’s Dominican-American upbringing would later help her draw from her own experiences as a second language learner. It would help her to connect and reach her future students who would also face the challenge of learning a new language within the school arena. Mari attended Columbia Union College in Takoma Park, MD and received her B.A. in Elementary and Early Childhood Education. She has served as a grade level team leader, co-leader for a boys mentoring program, and a tutor for the Commonweal Foundation an after school program which provides individualized literacy instruction for students who meet financial need criteria. Even during the weekends you will find Mari working with young children mentoring for young girls ages 5-16.

What inspired you to teach? I still remember my Kindergarten teacher and it was a pleasant memory. After learning all of the colors and identifying them by sight, I was given the opportunity to go in front of the class and hold up the color flash cards for students to recall. I was now helping my fellow classmates learn the colors. That was a powerful moment! It seems simple and most children could easily allow that memory to fade, but not only did it wake up a desire within, it changed me. I believe it was at that moment that I fell in love with teaching. Unbeknownst to my teacher, and myself at the time, that moment opened up my inner desire to keep on learning. I would continue learning so that I could share my knowledge with others. This teacher had found the code to unlock a shy and apprehensive student. Ever since then, I have wanted to recreate those moments and opportunities with as much frequency as possible to anyone I came in contact with, especially little ones. Today as a first grade teacher, I look to create that moment everyday for my students. I am not necessarily looking for the exact outcome that I received but I push to foster learning opportunities that lead to “aha moments, light bulbs going off, moments where persistence pays off, and moments of accomplishments and satisfaction at the end of the day. My students engage in meaningful class discussions, partner discovery, group work, fun and sharing, I also constantly seek to foster an emotionally safe classroom. I believe in empowering and encouraging my students to return to school the next day and do it all over again.

Why teach in the immersion program? As a child I remember my mother telling me how great it was that I was learning to read, write and speak English but that it was also equally important that I read, write and speak in my native language, Spanish. In conjunction with speaking Spanish in the home, every night my mother would read the Bible to us in Spanish. We would engage in great family discussions and Q&A and boy did it pay off. Up until my senior year of college I had never heard of immersion programs. When I was presented with the opportunity to join Montgomery County Public Schools and teach in my first language, I wasted no time in accepting the challenge. As I inquired more about the program, I learned that my future students would learn the language through the content areas of math and science. A majority of my students come from homes where English is the primary language. Many families have made the intentional decision to enroll their children in the program so that they would not only acquire a new language but learn an experience and value different cultures. When I see and hear my young students searching for the words and phrases to express themselves and their feelings, I am able to emphasize and apply not only the correct strategies I have learned as an educator but exercise patience and encourage them along the way.

Engaging Families, Ensuring Education Success: A Back-to-School Tour with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

In Springdale, Arkansas, the Hispanic population grew by more than 150 percent between 2000 and 2011, largely driven by the arrival of mostly Hispanic immigrants. The school district’s public school population is now 44 percent Hispanic, and its English Learner population is also 44 percent of students. The city has done a remarkable job of embracing their newest community members and ensuring that all students and families are supported.

As part of ED’s Back-to-School Bus Tour, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH) visited Springdale to learn about the city’s community integration efforts. For the visit, WHIEEH collaborated with the Cisneros Center for New Americans, an organization that works to accelerate the integration of new Americans into American society. One stop was at an early childhood center where newly enrolled families pose for portraits that are placed in the classroom, to help ease the child’s transition and alleviate separation anxiety. Coffee sessions between new and veteran parents help familiarize families with the center and the community.

Another stop included the Turnbow Elementary School family literacy program where parents attend English language classes and scheduled PAC or “Parent and Child” time, in which parents join their children in class. They also learn about other subjects, including safety and financial assistance, from community partners such as the police and fire departments and local banks.

A mother described the program’s impact on her and her daughter: “When I signed up for this program, I saw my daughter with a huge smile, so I know it really mattered to her that I was in it,” she said.

At the Language Academy at Har-Ber High School, newly arrived students write their aspirations on classroom walls. These not only remind students to work hard, but they also provide instructors with daily reminders of their own role in helping all students reach their full potential.

The Academy has served to support integration into the larger community.

“The Language Academy helped me communicate with other people,” one student said. “At first, I didn’t know the basics …and now I’m in a regular class. I know all the things that the teacher tells me, and how they teach me and help me so much.”

A town hall for leaders from throughout the community provided context for the school district’s work. Superintendent Jim Rollins provided an overview of the district’s comprehensive efforts and a panel of experts discussed best practices on immigrant integration.

“Education is the great equalizer – quality education is accessible to immigrant families in Springdale,” said Professor William Schwab, University of Arkansas.

Throughout the tour, it was evident that efforts to break down language barriers and motivate students to succeed in and out of the classroom are making a difference.

Springdale’s family engagement and integration vision and efforts were recognized in aRace to the Top-District grant award in 2013. The program helps localities develop plans to personalize and improve student learning, increase educational opportunities, and provide resources that lead to a high-quality learning experience.

The program has enabled Springdale to provide 100 additional preschool slots to the community’s children and draw up plans to expand their family literacy program to each of their 30 schools.

The commitment to immigrant integration through family engagement is in the soul of the Springdale community. Superintendent Rollins put it best: “Those are the kind of things that can happen when you embrace children and help them find their true potential and promise.”

Emmanuel Caudillo is a Special Advisor for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Natalie A. Morales

Natalie Morales

Natalie A. Morales, EdD

Science High School Teacher in Newburgh, NY

Dr. Morales has spent fourteen years teaching Biology and more recently, Human Anatomy and Physiology, at Newburgh Free Academy, where she began her teaching career as a student teacher. In addition to teaching, she has spent time aligning her course curricula and developing new curricula for a course integrating science and technology. Dr. Morales has been selected to participate in numerous building level and union committees and trainings. She has served as a turnkey trainer and facilitator for the implementation of professional learning communities, classroom management skills, and the Common Core State Standards within her school. Dr. Morales recently began mentoring student teams conducting independent research utilizing network science as part of the Newburgh Free Academy’s NetSci High research program in affiliation with West Point’s Network Science Center. She is currently serving on Newburgh Free Academy’s High School Steering Committee which has been tasked with researching and developing an implementation plan for the creation of two independent high schools.

Dr. Morales holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology/Secondary Education from the State University of New York at New Paltz which earned her certification as a 7-12 Biology/General Science teacher. She returned to the State University of New York at New Paltz to earn her Master’s of Science in Education in Literacy Education which granted her Literacy Certifications in grades Birth-5 and 6-12. Dr. Morales also earned a professional degree for Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in Educational Administration which allowed to become certified as a School Administrator and Supervisor and a School District Administrator. She recently completed her Doctorate in Education in Instructional Leadership at Western Connecticut State University where she conducted a study comparing high school students’ and their teachers’ perceptions of factors affecting academic achievement and underachievement.

Dr. Morales was selected to the Class of 2013-2014 as a Phi Delta Kappa International Emergent Leader. As a PDK Emergent Leader, she served as the teacher advisory committee member, in Washington, DC, for the 2014 PDK Gallup Poll and reviewed applications for Phi Delta Kappa International’s Duncan Scholarship awarded to graduate students pursuing their doctorate degrees. Her Ed Profile was also featured in PDK’s Kappan magazine. Dr. Morales was also designated a New York State Master Teacher in STEM. She was one of twenty-six STEM teachers in Mid-Hudson, NY selected to into the first cohort of Master STEM teachers in New York State where she will be spending the next four years working towards the improving the integration of STEM and STEM careers within the classroom.

Dr. Morales is an active member within the New York State United Teachers union and Newburgh Teachers Association where she served was a former head delegate and is a current delegate of Newburgh Free Academy’s North Campus. She also serves as a delegate representing the Newburgh Enlarged City School District Teachers at the New York State Teacher Retirement System Delegate meetings. Dr. Morales is also a member of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum and Phi Delta Kappa.

Why do I teach? I teach because I have a heart for and towards my students.. I teach because I want to pass on all that I know to those who will listen both in and out of the classroom so that they, too, can become more informed and educated.

What do you love about teaching? I love to see my students’ self-confidence and self-efficacy blossom and grow over the course of the year as they acquire and apply their biological knowledge to real world applications.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? My high school biology teacher, Mrs. Murphy, exuded heart and passion when she taught which allowed for a positive teacher-student relationship to develop grounded in motivation and care.

A Latina’s Perspective: Preparing the Next Generation of STEM Latino Leaders

Cross-posted from the MIND Research Institute blog

At six years old, I faced an unfamiliar culture, a new language, and insurmountable unknowns when I reunited with my family in Houston, TX after leaving El Salvador. Although my father only completed the second grade, he made sure that education was my top priority. My parent’s lack of a formal education and knowledge of the English language thwarted their capacity to support my academic experience, yet they were always engaged.

The early years were difficult but I persisted. Fortunately, my high school classmates introduced me to the importance of college preparedness and a college education. Through hard work, determination, and continuous effort, I graduated 3rd out of 747 seniors in my high school, earned my B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin, and am a Cancer Biology Ph.D. candidate at The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. I must admit that without the mentoring of my peers and the emotional support from my parents, I wouldn’t have achieved a higher education.

Currently, I have taken a break from my studies to serve as a policy intern at the White House Initiative on the Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative), to help assess the state of the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education of Hispanic students in the U.S. This topic is close to my heart as I am on the verge of achieving something I never imagined possible.

As a six-year-old ESL student, I couldn’t fathom the idea of one day becoming a cancer scientist. Growing up, I enjoyed STEM courses although I didn’t quite understand their impact on my education. I did however realize that something was amiss; there were very few Hispanic students in my AP math and science courses. In fact, this observation followed a trend in which the higher my education attainment was, the fewer Hispanic students joined me in the classroom. This, along with the lack of a Hispanic STEM mentor to advise and guide me through college, was disheartening to experience.

As a result, it became engrained in my mind that other Hispanic students did not care about education and even less about STEM careers. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Hispanics represent 23 percent of students enrolling in STEM majors – comparable to their White counterparts. For the first time in history Hispanics are graduating in higher numbers than ever (76 percent), have cut the drop-out rate in half over the last decade (14 percent compared to 28 percent in 2000), and enrolling in college at higher rates than their White counterparts (69 percent in the class of 2012 compared to 67 percent, respectively). Despite these positive trends, only 16 percent of Hispanics complete their STEM Bachelor’s degree compared to 30 percent of their White counterparts Thus, this feeds into the lack of Hispanic presence in the STEM workforce.

At the postsecondary level, Hispanic students are not prepared to acclimate to new curriculum structures, diverse communities, and even the weed-out nature of STEM introductory courses. These new challenges, accompanied by academic underperformance, discourage Hispanic students from completing STEM majors. In addition, the financial status of Hispanic students, either the lack of financial aid or the need to support their families, is detrimental to the completion of challenging and time-demanding STEM majors.

And while ensuring more minorities, including Hispanics, are provided access to rigorous courses starting early in elementary school, there needs to be a collective effort on behalf of high schools and postsecondary institutions to support their enrollment, persistence, and success in STEM careers. Currently, 66 percent of Hispanic students enroll in community colleges, providing these institutions with a critical opportunity to retain, graduate, or successfully transfer them to 4-year institutions where they can pursue their bachelor’s degrees in STEM.

The challenges Hispanic students face start long before they enroll in college. While the numbers of Hispanic students enrolling in AP courses and exams in high school are at their highest, no STEM course is within the top 5 AP courses they take. Still, only 30 percent of Hispanic students with the potential to participate in AP classes actually enroll in them. Similarly, in spite of increasing numbers of Hispanic students taking college-entrance exams, only 1 in 7 Hispanics met all four college-readiness benchmarks, indicating a low chance to succeed in first-year college courses. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights reports that only 67 percent of Hispanic students have access to a full range of STEM courses (Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, Calculus, Biology, Chemistry and Physics) in high school. This, along with cognitive and socio-cultural factors, attitudes/perceptions, institutional variables, and college experiences influence the representation and retention of Hispanic students in STEM majors.

As the fastest-growing minority group, Hispanics are projected to represent 70 percent of the nation’s population growth between 2015 and 2060. Thus, it is deeply encouraging to see a new movement taking shape towards supporting and mentoring minorities, and women and girls, into STEM fields. US2020, responding to the White House’s call for action to engage students in STEM, makes STEM mentorship accessible to girls, minorities, and low-income students in order to reinforce a quality STEM education suitable for STEM careers.

Further, the Obama Administration established the Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM) to aid Hispanics in Pre-K-12th grade transition to a postsecondary education and into the STEM workforce through strategies that bring together federal agencies, communities, stakeholders, schools, and students.

Finally, addressing the important financial barriers for Latino families, the Initiative created the¡Gradúate! Financial Aid Guide to Success, which provides key information on resources to finance a STEM education. With the great strides Hispanics are currently making in education, it is imperative for us all to get involved now in order to create a sustainable environment for our students to become the next generation of fruitful contributors to the STEM workforce, the economy, and the collective success of our nation.

Sobeyda Gomez is a Ph.D. Candidate at The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. During the Summer of  2014, she was a Policy Intern for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics where she worked on the Initiative’s STEM portfolio

Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Selina Alonzo


Selina Alonzo

English High School Teacher in Phoenix, AZ

For eleven years Selina Alonzo Helton has represented an outstanding commitment to children and families in her community. As an English teacher in the Phoenix Union High School District, Mrs. Alonzo Helton demonstrates a love of learning and a passion for her profession.   She was named her district’s 2009 Teacher of the Year, and was also honored in 2010 with the Esperanza Award given by Chicanos Por La Causa, Inc.  As a community member, Selina represents urban families by serving on the Board of Directors for The Neighborhood Center, through Neighborhood Ministries and also through volunteering.  As an expression of their faith, Selina and her husband Phillip are committed to working for justice by living, teaching, serving and fellowshipping in the Calle 16 neighborhood of downtown Phoenix. In 2012, Selina was selected as a White House Champion of Change by the White House and the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Why do you teach? I have a bulletin board in my room labeled, “The Reasons I Teach” it has pictures of students that span 11 years. I teach because of them and for them. They are worth the effort.

What do you love about teaching? I love the opportunity to impact and motivate youth. I love that I play a role in shaping hearts, minds and the future of this country through education.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? I have had so many AMAZING teachers. I am fearful to make a list because I know I will leave someone out, but Sallie Chalfin, Sharon Bernero, Jose Arenas, DeeDee Falls, Lynn Palacios and Pat Robinson are the ones that stand out the most. What’s true about all of them is they all told me that I would be something someday and they believed and pushed me into success. As an adult I am still a student and I have been greatly impacted by Dr. Kent Scribner. He has invested in me and challenged me to always be the best version of myself. Furthermore I have had the opportunity to learn while teaching alongside powerhouses like Reyna Huerta, Alaina Adams, Pam Ramsey, Gerald Neal, Carrie Deahl, Edie Fluker, Gayle Deaver, Judy Laufer, Dr. Robert Turley and Dana Cook. These colleagues teach me daily.


Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Octavio Alvarez

Octavio Alvarez

Octavio Alvarez

Mathematics High School Teacher in Los Angeles, CA

Octavio Alvarez is a mathematics teacher at Brawley Union High School where he has been teaching traditional and bilingual mathematics for 12 years. Mr. Alvarez graduated from the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California with a major in Civil Engineering, but decided to pursue a career in teaching. During his time at Brawley Union High School, Mr. Alvarez has improved the academic outcomes for Southern California English Language Learners, and has equipped his students with the knowledge to succeed after high school. In 2012 Mr. Alvarez was recognized by the California Association for Bilingual Education for his contributions to improving the English Learner Mathematics Program as well as improving student outcomes on the California Standards Tests and California High School Exit Examination. That same year, he was selected as a White House Champion of Change by the White House and the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Why do you teach? Teaching is a passion for me. It enables me to transfer all of the knowledge and wisdom I have gained over the years to my students.

What do you love about teaching? I cherish the opportunity to inspire and help students who have typically had difficulties with the educational system. I want to help my students succeed and prepare them for real life experiences after high school.  I also love teaching because it enables me to give back to my community.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? Absolutely yes. When I was a student in Mexico, I admired my math teacher because he had a lot of wonderful strategies to teach us math concepts. He liked to use many real life examples and infuse humor into his lessons that made the environment feel very comfortable. In fact, while I teach math I emulate techniques used by Mr. Cerda, my old math teacher.