Oscar Perez works for the California recruitment team at Teach For America and recruits at his alma mater, the University of California, Los Angeles.
This past week, I had the distinct privilege of joining other Teach For America staff members at our first-ever Latino Summit and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Conference. The conference was a phenomenal opportunity to reflect on issues of education, healthcare, immigrant rights, and countless other topics that affect our Latino communities every day. I walked away with plenty to think about, but moreso a deep urgency in me to advocate further for our Latino students, who often get diverted from their educational path.
Having taught in the Washington, D.C., area for Teach For America, I was fascinated to hear community leaders, congressional representatives, and Teach For America staff talk about the state of Latino America just miles from where I had been teaching 10th grade English not long ago. When listening to policy experts talk about burgeoning Latino communities and statistics, it was impossible not to connect these facts and figures to the faces of my own Latino students, who mostly represented the growing El Salvadorean population in D.C.
Amid all the conversations about identity and public policy as it pertains to Latino communities, two major points stood out to me:
1. A massive demographic shift is occurring in this country, and many school systems are simply not equipped to serve this changing population.
It is expected that by 2036, 1 in every 3 school-aged kids will be of Latino descent. When considering the unique challenges facing Latino students, I doubt school systems with growing Latino populations are ready to address issues of bilingual education, the citizenship status of their students, and culturally relevant curricula. Unfortunately, I think the mind-set of policy makers is that this is a problem in the future, when in reality this is happening NOW. School districts and policy makers alike should begin making the necessary mind-set and resource shifts now, because all of our students should have access to a great education—they shouldn’t have to wait until 2036.
2. Latinos are the only immigrant group in American history where the first generation outperforms the third and fourth generations academically.
Of everything I heard in my time in D.C., this point got me thinking the most, simply because it was baffling to figure out what exactly contributes to this decrease in academic performance across generations. My mind immediately jumps to a few theories (pervasive culture of low expectations, curricula that do not reflect their identities, etc.), but more than anything, this fact pushed me to think about what it would take to get more Latino educators in classrooms, so they could begin to reverse this trend in communities similar to those in which they grew up. This is my charge at Teach For America—to find the best candidates to lead our students in classrooms, and in particular, to find the next generation of Latino leaders in California who not only understand the barriers our Latino students and communities face, but can articulate differences in language, culture, or experience as assets, not deficits.
With all of this in mind, I remind everyone that the urgency is real—not all of our students in America are receiving a quality education, and Latino students are undeniably receiving the short end of the stick. For our Latino students, who will soon make up half of our classrooms, we can no longer provide an education that isn’t serving their needs. It’s time to embrace culture and give all of our students the role models who will inspire them to greatness.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this; email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oscar Perez works for the California recruitment team at Teach For America and recruits at his alma mater, UCLA. Prior to joining staff, he taught 10th grade English in Washington, D.C., and enjoyed teaching novels like Lord of the Flies and Night. He is the youngest of nine siblings, and growing up, raised cows, goats, pigs, and chickens.