Community Conversation on Educational Excellence

 

TAMPA, Fla. (Sept. 18, 2009) – Experts on all sides agree. The achievement gap in education – evident in uninspiring test scores and daunting dropout rates – and its attendant economic impact constitute a national dilemma.  Some would say a national disgrace.  When it comes to the U.S.’s fastest growing minority, Hispanic Americans, statistics point to a veritable crisis. The Tampa Bay community will have a chance to add its voice to the national discussion on this problem in an upcoming “Community Conversation” at the University of South Florida on Sept. 22, thanks to Paul Dosal, executive director of Florida ENLACE, a statewide network promoting college readiness and success for Latinos and other underrepresented students.

 

When Dosal learned that Juan Sepúlveda, director of the U.S. Department of Education’s White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans was touring the nation to gather information, data and insights from Latino communities, he knew USF had to be one of the stops.  ENLACE partners with all the major movers and shakers who have something to say about education and Tampa Bay’s historic, large and growing Latino community.  His offer to host this important outreach effort was accepted as were his invitations to the area’s top administrators, educators along with some elected officials.  Now he wants to see more students and community people involved to express their concerns as well.  Dosal knows their comments and ideas will be given a respectful hearing.  (For more information, contact Glorimar M. Nosal, marketing-communications manager, White House Initiative, at 202-870-1227, or glorimar.nosal@ed.gov.)

 

Sepúlveda has pointed out that Latino students “are the folks who are going to be the backbone of the economy.”  The White House initiative Sepúlveda works for, created by executive order in 1990 to improve Federal efforts to promote quality education for Hispanic Americans, appears to be working to strengthen said “backbone.”

 

“I believe the feedback gathered on such critical issues as college preparedness and financial aid will play an integral role in future policy development,” Dosal said.  “From what I understand, the conversations are already generating a national network of people who are interested in working together so that we can help each other achieve what I believe are very achievable goals – an improved environment for Hispanic student success at all levels of the education system.”    

 

Two primary points will serve as lynchpins in the discussion:  1) how Latino education attainment can and should be improved; and 2) what the White House Initiative should be doing to facilitate this improvement.  So far on the tour, participants have identified parental involvement in the schools, extra support for schools in low-income areas, enrichment programs that foster a college-going culture among students and financial aid as key components of any effort to help. 

 

“It’s not like there are a whole lot of new wheels that need to be invented and there are many successful programs out there,” Dosal said.  “All of them need the support to reach many more students and the successful ones need to share their methods with those who want to help and don’t know how.  I have high hopes for this initiative if it lives up to its promise to convey our desires and deliver with effective policies.” 

 

As USF’s President Judy Genshaft  points out, “USF is a logical destination for this important tour because we have many projects that engage the Hispanic community involving education.”   Several programs, initiatives and achievements bolster this claim.

 

In addition to USF being the home of ENLACE Florida, other USF programs embrace Hispanic students and the Hispanic community.  They range from the High School Equivalency Program and the College Assistance Migrant Program for participants from migrant and seasonal farm worker backgrounds, to researching and working to eliminate health disparities among Latinos on the part of the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute in USF’s College of Behavioral and Community Sciences.  Hispanic students are involved in Upward Bound and the Premedical Enrichment Program both of which promote expanding horizons and academic success. 

 

Among a diverse faculty are Patty Alvarez McHatton who works to foster Latina empowerment among grade school children and Barbara Cruz, the author of several Hispanic biographies and young adult books to name a few who are making contributions both in and beyond the classroom.  There is a summer institute for teachers focusing on Latin America and the Caribbean, the College of Education presents annual Hispanic Heritage and Successful Latino Student Awards for high achievement. 

 

USF engages the community through the Florida Parental Information and Resource Center which recently presented a symposium on involving Latino parents in the public schools and through the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) program that includes Hispanic parents.  USF also has an Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean that embraces teaching, research and service.      

 

Community support comes back to the university through the outstanding efforts of USF’s Latino Community Advisory Committee which has raised more than $4 million for scholarships that come with invaluable mentor support. 

 

All of these programs are making a difference, one that hasn’t gone unnoticed when it comes time for Hispanic students to choose a college.  Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education magazine recognized USF in its annual list of the Top 100 U.S. institutions that conferred the most college degrees on Hispanic students and named USF’s College of Medicine one of the country’s top 25 medical schools enrolling Hispanic students. 

 

While experts agree there’s a problem, they also agree the whole nation stands to benefit from closing the achievement gap.  In a major critique, “The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools,” McKinsey & Co., one of the world’s leading consulting companies reported: “The persistence of these educational achievement gaps between the U.S. and other advanced nations imposes on the United States the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession.” 

 

Carlos Loumiet, chair of the New America Alliance, concurs: “Bluntly stated, America’s economic future is at stake unless the education crisis is addressed by our leaders at the national, state and local levels. …This is not just a societal crisis, but also a huge problem for American business, which must respond by driving ideas and resources where they are needed most.  We must muster the national will to tackle this problem as we have all our prior crises that have faced our nation.”

 

Tampa Bay’s input to the Community Conversation should help pave the way to some solutions.

 

“The Obama White House is going to hear from some of the most knowledgeable, impassioned and thoughtful experts from our community,” Dosal said.  “This is an unprecedented opportunity to be heard at the highest levels of our government’s top agency.  From this point on, no one can claim ignorance about what is needed when those in the best position to know are saying it loud and clear for all to hear.”

 

The University of South Florida System is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community-engaged, four-year public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The system offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. It has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.

 

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