HELPING HISPANIC STUDENTS REACH FOR THE STARS
The first Latina astronaut to go to space, Ellen Ochoa, said, “The opportunities I had were a result of having a good educational background. Education is what allows you to stand out.” With six out of 10 Hispanic students attending Pennsylvania’s most underfunded schools, it’s going to take a rocket ship to lift their life chances.
It’s then no surprise that six out of ten Hispanic students are behind in Science and English/Language Arts, and eight out of ten are behind in Math.
Hispanics are the fastest growing population in Pennsylvania, making their home in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but also smaller cities and towns along the “222 Corridor” like Easton, Bethlehem, Allentown, Lancaster, and York.
What these areas have in common are some of the most underfunded public school districts in the state. It’s not rocket science – districts with more money can afford experienced teachers, enrichment programs, tutors, up-to-date libraries and curriculum, technology, extracurricular activities, and support services that help students reach for the stars.
When Hispanic students attend schools with better resources, they do better. In Philadelphia’s collar counties, which have many well-funded districts, Hispanic students score higher on both ELA and math.
Language is another hurdle for a lot of Hispanic students. Nearly 25% of them need ELL (English Language Learner) support; they can’t master the content until they understand the language. Fortunately, one of the things going right in PA’s education funding is the extra funding that districts get for ELL students, but teachers report that they need more. Too often, ELL classrooms are overcrowded and under-resourced.
For older children who are fluent in English, they often have to be the translator for their parents because the school can’t afford translation services for materials or in-person meetings.
When President Kennedy spoke about sending a man to the moon in 1961, he probably didn’t imagine Ellen Ochoa flying among the stars. But he did put America on the path to take on a challenge “that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”
As we near the end of Hispanic Heritage Month, Pennsylvania lawmakers would do well to take Kennedy’s words to heart and not delay the work to nurture future Hispanic astronauts, doctors, entrepreneurs, and leaders by investing in education. Anything else is a failure to launch.