This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
When Theresa Martinez was young, her older siblings would take her along when they sold squash and chilies door to door.
" Pobrecita [poor little girl],"they'd say and point to her in hopes of enticing neighbors to buy food to help support the family of 13.
Martinez, now the University of Utah's assistant vice president for academic outreach, knows why many Latino students aren't as lucky as she was to graduate from high school and college.
"Schools aren't structurally set up or equipped to deal with a large Latino population," Martinez said. "We're not talking about an issue where children aren't smart enough."
The state needs more widespread, institutionalized programs to help Latinos succeed, said Richard Gomez, State Office of Education coordinator for educational equity. Utah schools already have some such programs, including AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), a program that encourages at-risk student to attend college and teaches them how to succeed in school, and MESA (Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement), which encourages minorities and girls to pursue science, engineering and math.
In 2008, Utah lawmakers passed a bill that helps fund family literacy centers where Spanish-speaking parents can often learn English, computers and other skills. It's a program that helps Latino parents, who might be intimidated by the school system, become more involved in their children's educations, said Charlene Lui, Granite School District director of educational equity.
Granite has seven such centers; the Salt Lake City School District has eight. Along with the Ogden School District, they have the largest percentage of Latino students in the state.
Granite also has partnered with the state education office and a Mexican college, Technologico de Monterrey, to offer high school math and science classes to the district's Spanish-speaking students, who might otherwise struggle. Many districts also require REACH (Respecting Ethnic and Cultural Heritage) training, which teaches educators how to help minority students.
"Every teacher has good intentions and wants to make a difference but may lack the cultural knowledge and skills to do so," Lui said. "They may not realize where their biases are."
Most districts require teachers seeking English as a second language (ESL) endorsements, which mean they're trained to teach students learning English, to take REACH training, Gomez said. The Ogden and Salt Lake City districts require all teachers to earn ESL endorsements within three years of employment. Granite requires its elementary schools to have at least one ESL-endorsed teacher per grade level and its middle and high schools to have at least five or six ESL endorsed teachers. Granite teachers who don't get ESL endorsements have to undergo a different type of training to help them teach students learning English.
Schools across the state also have their own programs aimed at helping Latino students succeed. Salt Lake City's East High, for example, works with several colleges and universities to offer mentoring and support programs to students. But ultimately, more institutional changes must be made in Utah schools for Latino students to succeed, Gomez said.
Martinez said she and her siblings wouldn't be where they are today if it hadn't been for widespread, institutional programs such as welfare, the GI Bill and affirmative action.
"It's not that we picked ourselves up by our bootstraps," Martinez said. "We were given boots, and they had straps."
In the Salt Lake City School District, students can typically enroll in summer school to try to finish high school credits. Or, if they don't complete summer school, they can finish their credits through the adult education program at Horizonte Instruction and Training Center.
In the Granite School District, seniors without enough credits to graduate can go to the Granite Peaks Learning Center. The program there consists mostly of student completing independent study packets, spokesman Ben Horsely said.