“Juntos” program helps Latino students in Cedar Rapids stay in school

Education helps make success easier to reach. While for many the question of going to college is something they think about often, for others the question is should I drop out or get my High School Diploma? Unfortunately, many Latino kids do not finish school. Juntos (Together) is a program offered by the Iowa State University Extension and is aiming to change the sad reality of school dropout among Latino students in Cedar Rapids, IA.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett with the Luna Family one of the families graduating from the “Juntos” program.
Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett with the Luna Family one of the families graduating from the “Juntos” program.

Juntos shows Latino families how to navigate Iowa’s school system. It also looks for ways to teach students who participate in the program to find success in high school or beyond. What the program is aiming to do is to prevent more Latino students from dropping out from high school.  According to statistics from Iowa Department of Education, in the years 2014 to 2015 the dropout rate of Hispanic students was 4.7%. In comparison the overall dropout rate that year was 2.5 percent.

Monica Vallejo who is a Hispanic program specialist at the Young Parents Network in Cedar Rapids explained that many students leave school because they lose motivation to continue their education and some do not have enough funds to go on to college, while others, she believes, simply get bad grades.

“We need the motivation, we need something. This program can open minds (for) a lot of Latinos,” she said.

Young Parents Network is now a partner with ISU extension working together to offer this program to even more students in Iowa.

The program focuses on Middle School students because they look to encourage them to think further and consider college. The program simply offers information that can helps parents and students to make a decision on further education. Thanks to a grant from the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation and a grant from Rockwell Collins that helped to train 10 facilitators, the classes are free and they usually are on Saturday or Sunday. The classes last a couple of hours and they stretch for five to six weeks. Since the classes gained a lot of popularity among the Hispanic Community, there is a plan to offer another set of classes in the fall.

Vallejo also believes that parents’ involvement in this program helps students to be more successful in their education. Parents learn about the ins and outs of Iowa’s Education System, discuss the benefits of credit and honor classes, planning ahead and other topics. The results are positive. Many students start thinking about continuing their education and some even return to the program to share their experience with others.

In January of this year the first group of participants graduated from the program and just this past May the second group of participants graduated in a small ceremony with Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett as a guest.

“The unconditional support by Mayor Ron Corbett to this program is very important and appreciated by the young people of Cedar Rapids” Mrs. Vallejo said.

The dropout rate is pretty high for Hispanic students, but it does not have to stay this way. Thanks to programs like Juntos, many Latinos students in Cedar Rapids, Iowa are giving a chance to education and in the long run it will make Iowa even a better place for everyone.

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