Connecticut: A college push for Hispanic teens

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Sep 7 17:04:24 UTC 2008

A college push for Hispanic teens

Maria Gonzalez helps teens excel with an after school program.
By Megan Broderick | Associated Press
from the September 8, 2008 edition

Torrington, Conn. - Back-to-school time for Maria Gonzalez means Friday
evenings in a church basement, surrounded by 30 teens chattering in a mix of
English and Spanish. She pushes them to excel in school, though she is not a
teacher. Ms. Gonzalez has assigned herself a mission: to improve the
graduation rates and college attendance of Hispanic youths in Torrington and
Winsted, Conn. She fears that immigrant teens in Torrington and Winsted
believe college is out of reach because they live in poverty or are unsure
of the English language. So Gonzalez pushes these teens to succeed in
school. "Do something so you don't have to be stuck in a factory," she tells
them. "You have the opportunity. Take advantage of that."

The problems Gonzalez is tackling might be newer to Torrington, where the
immigrant population has grown recently. The national Hispanic high school
dropout rate is 21 percent compared with the national average of 10 percent,
according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Additionally, students of color, those
from low-income backgrounds, and first-generation students are less likely
to apply for college or complete postsecondary education, according to the

Gonzalez started her program, which she calls Youth Opportunities, in
January with a grant of a little more than $3,000. She meets with teens in
the basement room at Trinity Episcopal Church on Friday nights, and begins
with a group activity. Then there's a guest speaker, followed by lessons in
traditional Dominican and Puerto Rican dance. Throughout the evening, tutors
meet with individual students needing help on homework or school projects.

Danny Diaz, an eighth-grader at Torrington Middle School who would like to
go to Harvard and also be a professional baseball player, has a clear idea
of why Gonzalez is running the group. Because of Hispanic students who drop
out of school, "people in Torrington think that Hispanics are up to no
good," he said. "She's trying to change that."  "I can see that too many
kids, they don't have anything to do after school. They're coming here and
they want to stay here," Danny's mother, Dolores Ramirez, said.

Ms. Ramirez said she arrived early to drop her son off one Friday during the
winter and there were already kids standing outside the door in the cold
waiting for Gonzalez. "She is loving," she said. "And all these kids, they
love her."

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