Inspiring Students to Obtain Higher Education: Hispanic Teens Learn to Teach and Mentor Younger Students

LIA VolunteersMotivating youth to prepare for college is a challenge, especially when students lack role models who have completed high school or obtained higher education. In a survey of Hispanic students from local schools, Betty Ashbaker, a professor in the Department of Counseling Psychology and Special Education, found that the average highest completed grade levels among Hispanic parents were 10th grade for mothers and 11th grade for fathers. Many of the children of these parents do not pursue higher education because they do not believe they are capable of succeeding. Ashbaker believes otherwise.

Ashbaker’s recent presentation at the National Paraprofessional Conference entitled “Seamless Transition from High School to University: Success for Hispanic Youth,” outlined a program in which Hispanic students in grades 10 through 12 are trained to be paraeducators. The students recruited to participate in the training generally do not consider themselves college bound. “This training orients them to the notion of college by exposing them to the reverse side of education as a possible career opportunity, while also giving them experience and building their resume,” Ashbaker explained.

For high school students to get into the program, they must be bilingual, have at least a 2.0 GPA, and complete required paperwork. Students are generally selected from Latinos in Action (LIA)–a program started at Timpview High School in 2000 by Jose Enriquez, now vice-principal of Mountain View High in Orem. “It is [Enriquez’s] brain child,” Ashbaker said.

The students selected to serve as paraeducators are trained to mentor elementary and junior high students. As mentors they provide peer tutoring, specifically in reading and mathematics, and serve as role models for academic success. The student paraeducators gain and improve social skills, academic attainment, and linguistic proficiency. An important goal of the program is to increase school engagement among these high school Hispanic students and prepare them for college and career-related opportunities.

A long-term goal of the program is to transition these Hispanic students from paraeducators to educators. “Utah schools need more Latino minority teachers in the classroom,” Ashbaker asserted. “There they can serve as role models for all students.”

Latinos are the largest and fastest growing minority population in the United States, accounting for 14 percent of the overall U.S. population. According to the Utah state census, the Hispanic school-aged population has increased by 12 percent in the last 10 years, with a projected 100 percent increase by 2015. Many schools in Utah have already reached more than 50 percent Hispanic enrollment.

Ashbaker is conducting research on the effectiveness of the paraeducator program in increasing school engagement among participants in comparison to Hispanic students not involved in the program. She is also interested in the impact of the program on mentees’ academic progress.

LIA was designed to reduce the dropout rates among Hispanic high school students while helping to serve younger Hispanic students. The program has been implemented into the Provo, Alpine, and Nebo school districts, as well as a school district in the State of Washington. Training is currently under way for additional LIA programs in the Park City, Ogden, Cache Valley, Millard, and Wasatch School Districts.

19 October 2009