‘It Takes a Barrio’ promotes college and beyond
“If you knew you were going to work 15 hours a day in temperatures that were 100 degrees, could you do it?” Lyzetth Rios asked the room full of Latino students at Golden Valley High School in Santa Clarita.
Her provocative question was part of a talk on labor leader Cesar Chavez, who — many will be shocked to learn — is not well known to a new generation of Latino students. Rios hopes to remedy that by preparing her students to enter CTA’s Cesar E. Chavez Memorial Education Awards Program, a competition that recognizes students for their understanding of Chavez’s vision and guiding principles.
‘It Takes a Barrio’
These students might not have considered higher education as part of their future if they had not enrolled in “It Takes a Barrio” (ITAB), a union-led program to inspire more Latino students to go to college and, hopefully, into teaching.
Spearheaded by the College of the Canyons Faculty Association (COCFA) and funded through a $450,000 National Education Association grant, the program brings together faculty from the community college, Hart Union High School District, and California State University, Northridge, in a collaborative and focused effort.
“Since the program was started, I’ve noticed the students are more motivated because they realize that college is attainable. I saw the change when we visited CSU Northridge,” Rios said. “That’s when they were able to picture themselves in college.”
An English teacher and Hart District Teachers Association member, Rios runs the weekly program with Vincent Devlahovich, COCFA member, who directs the three-year grant.
Work is paying off
Early indications are that their work is paying off. In the program’s first year, the percentage of ITAB students graduating high school and going on to college skyrocketed from 20 to 90 percent, a major accomplishment in a district that has undergone a sea change in demographics.
“ITAB makes you think of life after high school, and walking through a college campus gives me the confidence to say I can do this,” said Henry Cortez, who will graduate from Golden Valley this year.
Of the first-year cohort, all graduated, and 18 out of 21 students went on to four-year colleges or the College of the Canyons, while one student is postponing college for a year to help her family.
Operating as a noontime student club, ITAB provides guest speakers, special presentations by visiting faculty, skill building, and, of course, pizza.
Field trips are organized, including one to the National Chavez Center at La Paz in Keene, as well as to surrounding colleges. Some students have attended CTA’s State Council of Education and Student CTA conferences to expose them to union values and the role they play in education.
“But the main thing is that we are exposing them to the right people,” Devlahovich said. “It’s one thing for a counselor to tell students they can go to college, but here they can actually visit and hear stories from successful adults — that’s why this is so successful.”
Change in demographics
While getting the students to college is important, the hope is that they will become teachers. That was Devlahovich’s motive in applying for the three-year NEA grant to fund the program. During his years in teaching, the geology professor has observed a profound change in student demographics at College of the Canyons. Like the community around it, the college has changed from an almost entirely Caucasian student body to one that is 40 percent Latino.
Yet, as on many college campuses, the faculty doesn’t begin to reflect the college demographics. All that could change in the next few years with the massive retirement of full-time faculty.
“We have to think about where the new faculty will come from,” Devlahovich said.
Meanwhile, at nearby CSU Northridge, Maria Elena Cruz, a Chicano studies professor and member of the California Faculty Association, mentors ITAB graduates and other Latino students in a separate “teacher pipeline program” partially funded through CTA’s Institute for Teaching, which provides grants for teacher-led education reform. She currently has five students applying to enter teaching programs, while two are already in graduate school.
Students in the teacher pipeline program gain experience in public speaking, lesson planning and interviewing strategies.
Even if they don’t go into traditional education fields, Cruz said, “I tell my students that in everything they do, whether they are a lawyer, a nurse, or in business, they all have an opportunity to teach.”
The union-led program has fostered extensive collaboration among colleagues within the high school, the community college district, and nearby CSU Northridge campus.
“There has never been a lot of dialogue between the districts, but we have been able to build on that,” Devlahovich said. “There must be a lot more collaboration, since we are serving the same students.”
Because of that collaboration, Devlahovich’s colleague, Juan Buriel, the faculty adviser to the Association of Latino American Students at the College of the Canyons, was able to send two of his students to a national conference to train to become mentors to the high school students. In mentoring, they too are exposed to the skills needed to become educators.
Funding always needed
The colleagues have learned along the way that it not only takes a barrio, it takes funding to produce successful college-bound students — and funding is what will be needed when the grant runs out in 2017.
Still, Devlahovich and his colleagues are confident of the program’s success and are eager to share it with their colleagues statewide.
“We’re giving these students hope because their families never experienced higher education,” he said. “We are totally invested in this.”