“For the last five years New London has been flat funded, and that’s a big difference between New London and Hartford. I think that New London economy is another factor in terms of our students and the community we don’t have the same assistance that we have in Hartford, however we have the same problems, and therefore we are less equipped to deal with such problems.” — Miriam Morales Taylor
By Annika Darling CTLatinoNews.com When it comes to Latinos and education, it has been well documented that there are numerous obstacles and challenges that plague the community. While, they are the largest and fastest growing minority group in the U.S., as a group, Latino students disproportionately have the lowest education attainment levels. It is estimated that between 2005 and 2050 Latinos will account for 60 percent of the nation’s population growth making the success of the Latino community in education and in the labor market both a long-term and of immediate importance to America’s economy. President Barack Obama has stated that “the future of the United States is inextricably linked to the future of the Hispanic community.”
In New London, the director of student services for the public schools, Miriam Morales Taylor, sees firsthand the challenges that Latino students presently face. They account for 48.1 percent or 1,477 of the district’s 3,068 students, according to 2011-2012 school year figures, the most recent available from the state Department of Education. Taylor has worked for Connecticut schools for more than a decade. For many years she worked as a teacher, as a principal at both BulkeleyHigh School and Barnard Brown Elementary, and as assistant superintendent for the Hartford Public Schools.
Taylor said the issues some Latino students face are the similar across the state. These challenges, she said, range from the common daily pressures to fit in and to succeed, and for Latino students in lower economic situations — language obstacles which automatically put them behind their peers.
Studies show that too many Latino students more often start school in a place of deficit in comparison to their peers. Latino students are less likely to have had early childhood education of any sort. Less than half of Latino children are enrolled in any early learning program. Studies have also shown that those students who are falling behind are more likely to drop out, and almost half of Hispanic students never receive their high school diplomas. These dropout rates have limited the advancement opportunities of a population that is estimated to become the majority of the Nation’s labor force in less than 50 years.
Taylor attributes this partly to the transience of parents.
“Parents sometimes come to this country and have to go back to their country and in the process of going back and forth they don’t always make sure their kids go to school, especially when they’re in their native country,” she said.
Taylor said she believes that parents play an integral role in the educational experience of their children and encourages them to be an active participant.
“I really try to support the family and to ensure that they understand that they also have the responsibility,” she said. “I don’t want them to be entitled to receive. I want them to find the responsibility and understand they have a responsibility for their destiny too.”
Other challenges Taylor has witnessed arise from economics, either from a lack of funding or from parental economic struggles that impede their ability to provide support for their children’s’ educational experience.
“Obviously, many families face economic issues,” Taylor said. “Sometimes parents do not have the means to support the students and provide the stability that any child needs to grow up healthy and to nurture their ability to learn.”
As for other economic influences, the Obama Administration has recognized the dire need of many institutions and has worked to make federal funds more readily available to struggling schools. Through programs such as Race to The Top schools with large achievement gaps, most commonly between Latino students and their peers, are targeted and assisted. Taylor said that New London has received money from these special grants and says she saw the positive impact it had, she explains, “Anytime you get more money you can improve the schools.”
With local funding, Taylor said, sometimes it’s impossible to meet all the educational needs of the children, in terms of reducing class size, bringing the necessary technology and services, and other integral components of a successful educational setting.
“In New London, we actually have an issue with class size,” said Taylor. “Some are over 28 students. Having class sizes with no more than 18 students makes a big difference. The students need that one on one with teachers. And when teachers have 4 classes a day and are dealing with everything they are dealing with it gets very difficult.”
Since moving from Hartford Schools to New London Taylor has been able to see the significant difference in funding and the impact the lack of funding has on the students. She said, “For the last five years New London has been flat funded, and that’s a big difference between New London and Hartford. I think that New London economy is another factor in terms of our students and the community we don’t have the same assistance that we have in Hartford, however we have the same problems, and therefore we are less equipped to deal with such problems.”
Taylor works to creatively bring services to the students to help them succeed. Since arriving at New London she has began a Gifted and Talented Academy, where she has been able to harness and nurture individual potential.
Taylor said, “I think it is important that all students, especially Latinos, have the same access to all sorts of opportunities that nurture success.”
In general, Latino students often have less opportunity than their peers to take the challenging curricula – including advance courses in mathematics, and Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses – that are often indicative of college success. Taylor says she is working to correct this.
Taylor is dedicated not only to the plight of Latino students at New London, but to all the students she supervises. She relates her work to that of a priest, like being clergy, “What I do is going to have a big impact in any aspect life of a child life; in their educational life, their personal life, and their adult life.” She continues, “The way that I behave and the way that I conduct myself I know is going to have a direct impact on the life of the children.”
Although Taylor has had some success in addressing some of these issues in New London Public Schools, she knows she cannot accomplish the larger task at hand on her own. Reforming our schools to deliver a world-class education is a shared responsibility. She said the task cannot be shouldered by our Nation’s teachers and principals alone and that more stakeholders have to recognize the importance of the Latino community and its families and support their children’s education.