While the number of Latino students grows every year, the number of teachers has not. Teach for America wants to close the gap by recruiting 10 percent more college graduates for its program by 2015.
“Any good teacher can have an impact, but Latinos can have an additional impact as role models,” says Amanda Fernandez, vice president for diversity and inclusiveness for TFA. “The children can see themselves in these Latino teachers and see their options.”
Patricia Leon-Guerrero is one of these Latina role models. After graduating from Syracuse University with help from the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, she joined the two-year TFA program and was sent to a 97 percent Hispanic school in Las Vegas.
“I can tell you about Javi,” she recalls. Javi was in second grade but was two years behind in school. The young Latina teacher talked to his parents, who were Mexican immigrants, and convinced them to bring Javi to school an hour earlier for tutoring. She even helped Javi’s parents with their English so they could help him with his homework.
“The parents knew I cared, and they trusted me.”
In six months, Javi had improved two whole grade levels.
Alejandra Rincon, vice president of programs at the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, says they give over 4,000 scholarships a year to high-achieving Latino students. Her hope is that once these Hispanics graduate college, a good number of them will consider Teach for America.
The Hispanic Scholarship Fund is not banking on good will only. They are reaching out to school administrators and spreading the word through their newsletter and upcoming seminars.
The biggest problem for TFA is that very few Latinos are familiar with the program. Fernandez explains that another issue is many Hispanic families want their college-educated children to do something more profitable than teaching.
”Why would their children go into a nonprofit instead of going to law school?” Fernandez says.
Leon-Guerrero knows this firsthand.
”It wasn’t easy calling my mother and saying I wasn’t going to law school.”
But once her mother saw Patricia in her Las Vegas classroom, she gave her full support.
Now, Leon-Guerrero, a Hispanic Scholarship Fund recipient, is a recruiter for TFA. She canvasses colleges across the country and convinces Latino students to join the program, just like she did.
“I tell them, someone paved the road for us. Now we have to help our community close the achievement gap.”
Sandra Lilley is a producer at NBC News.
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