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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ending the Xicana/Latina Drop-Out Crisis

by Efrén Paredes, Jr.

Yesterday many schools opened across the nation to commence the new school year. For many it will mark new aspirations, for others it will signal the painful reality of dreams deferred and evaporating hopes.

August 27, 2009 a new report titled, "Listening to Latinas: Barriers to High School Graduation," was released by the National Women’s Law Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).

According to the report, "Latinas are dropping out of school in alarming numbers. Forty-one percent of Latina students do not graduate with their class in four years—if they graduate at all. Many Latina students face challenges related to poverty, immigration status, limited English proficiency, and damaging gender and ethnic stereotypes. And the high teen pregnancy rate for Latinas (53% by the age of 20) reflects and reinforces the barriers they face."

The gravity of this disturbing reality is exacerbated by the fact that 80% of the students surveyed want to graduate from college and perhaps go further, and 98% reported they want to graduate from high school. One-third of the girls who were surveyed do not expect to achieve their educational goals.

To help combat the factors that are contributing to the drop-out rate of Xicana/Latina high school students and bring attention to this issue, I asked members of The Injustice Must End (TIME) Committee to Free Efrén Paredes, Jr. to create a Facebook group on my behalf named, "I Pledge to Help Xicanas/Latinas Graduate."

With over 250 million Facebook users, according to Nielsen NetView, I felt it would be a great way to connect people who are serious about ending this cycle and offer them a platform to share ideas, resources, programs, and information about ways to accomplish this.

In just 11 days the group has reached 1,300 members and continues to grow each day. This is an indication that people are serious about wanting to end this crisis. Several people have expressed interest in the group and gratitude for conceptualizing the group's creation. People are already networking and sharing important information.

One group of students at Michigan State University is currently creating a mentoring group for Xicana/Latina students in the Lansing area. I recently spoke to the students and offered to help them in any way I can, including helping develop a workshop or offering relevant educational materials they can utilize.

Several students at various universities have also asked to publish my poem "The Wise Latina" in campus newspapers and feature it on their web site. I have granted permission for all of them to do it and have been grateful for the interest it has generated nationally.

I invite everyone to read "Listening to Latinas: Barriers to High School Graduation" and share it with other parents, educators, clergy, community leaders, and others who can help contribute to the campaign to help Xicanas/Latinas graduate from high school and pursue their dreams.

This call to action is not only to assist members of my own family and friends, but for every other Xicana/Latina student who dreams of graduating from high school and matriculating at a university.

Xicana/Latina students across the nation are depending on us. We have to be their voice and advocates. We have a responsibility to them and it is our mission to fulfill it. Last year half the children born in this country were Xicano/Latino and that number is expected to rise each year.

We have a lot of work ahead of us. But, we also have a lot of hands, strong hearts and brilliant minds to do it.

Click here to join the Facebook group and become a part of this effort. Share the link with others, invite your contacts, and spread the word. You can also download all the reports and fact sheets related to this issue by visiting the MALDEF web site.