A Mother’s Pride

The car door opened and an umbrella quickly appeared beneath the drizzling skies. A girlish smile chased the gloom as she steadied her umbrella and smoothed her carefully pressed blue dress. It reached a demure calf length and graced her neck with a lacy collar. White shoes with brilliant white socks and shiny brown hair carefully combed and fastened by a white ribbon completed the picture of youth’s bloom. She stepped smartly into the church and stood near the entrance. Older women caressed her cheek and murmured low tones of approval as they passed. The congregation meekly obeyed the call to order and the minister signaled for her to come forward. Confidently, she and her older companion, Irene Medina, stepped onto the stage and looked out over the audience.

Irene introduced herself first. "I am Irene Medina. I have been working with the organization of American Association of University Women to develop a program for young Latino women who are going into 8th grade this fall. The program is called Latino Leadership and will begin September 21 at 3 PM at El Centro. That day you will meet many of the people of the community who will be partners in this program to assist young women to develop leadership skills…This is the first time for this program to be conducted…" Upon finishing she nodded to her young friend.

"My name is Zacnite Figueroa and I am twelve years old. I want to encourage all 8th grade Latina students to attend this leadership program. I am enrolled and would like to get to know more girls my age who go to other schools. I believe this program will help me to build skills, knowledge, and self confidence as well as introduce me to new friends."

Knowledge and self confidence are qualities that every person needs to succeed in life. For hispanic girls—latinas—they are critically important. According to the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation report conducted in 2000, "Se Se Puede! Yes, We Can: Latinas in School," , Latinas hold the unenviable distinction of having the highest dropout rate of any other racial or ethnic group. "For many Latinas, dropping out of school is not a frivolous matter," says Anne Lockwood, honorary fellow with the Wisconsin Center for Educational Research. "They feel pressed to contribute to the family."

For some Latinas, family responsibilities make going to school difficult. Many Latino families live at or below the poverty level and every dollar is needed to survive. For that reason, many teen Latinas choose work and home over education. However, for those hispanic girls who do brave the arduous task of succeeding at school, sometimes the schools themselves offer the greatest barriers.

"I think the current educational system is failing a lot of students, not just Latinas," R. Yolanad Cruz, superintendent of Dallas Can Academy, a Texas charter school system that caters to dropout students who return to school. She adds, however, that educators have a tendency not to challenge those failures when it involves Latinas. "There are lower expectations of them."

In Marisa Trevino’s summary of the university women’s study she writes, "Schools have proven to be the breeding grounds for some of the most damaging situations Latina girls experience when it comes to affecting and developing their self-esteem and self-confidence…while in school Latinas faced routine racial stereotyping, low expectations and threats to their personal safety. The Latina teens reported that they continually had to counter teachers’ and counselors’ assumptions that they were gang members simply because they spoke Spanish. Dr Angela Ginorio, co-author of the Si Puede report, argues that schools must work with the families and communities of the Latina population to build upon the natural strengths the girls take to the classroom. "Latina students are very powerful, says Superintendent Cruz. "They just don’t know it." (www.womensenews.org, 3/22/01)

Irene Medina does. After eight years of hard work, she graduated with a 4.34 GPA from East Henderson High School. Irene now hopes to be a computer systems analyst and pursue studies at the University of North Carolina – Asheville. With the kindness given her by her church, Sen. Apodacca and the financial support she is receiving from our local University Women to supplement her own part time work, that goal will become a reality. In turn, she wishes to help others. "I’m frustrated when I see that other people have the road wide open and don’t take advantage of it. That’s why I want to help this young leadership program for young girls because I know that they have the opportunity to succeed but sometimes they choose not to—they need encouragement to make the right decisions." Lee Laidlaw and Lee Luebbe, two outstanding members of the AAUW task force that is guiding this Latino Leadership Program for Young Women hope to help more young women like Ms. Medina make the right decision.

Lee Laidlaw observed, "It’s positive for our community to allow these girls to become self confident and well educated. Is it for the public good that we have someone in our country with that kind of ability and record and we would deliberately hold them back. We place insurmountable barriers in their way to a college education. A democracy can only survive if opportunity is fairly distributed to everyone."

Lovely and young, Zacnite Figueroa stepped down from the stage, her dreams firmly in heart. Beyond her favorite things like lions and pizza and the nice teachers at Hendersonville Middle School lies her ultimate goal—college. She is fortunate to have found the helping arms of her family, Irene Medina and the American Association of University Women.

To my readers: If you ever wonder if I get comments on these columns, I do occasionally. What are your thoughts on the matter?
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*The opinions stated in this page are those of Ms. Eva Ritchey and do not necessarily represent the views of CyTech Computers & Internet Solutions, Inc..
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