A new program offered by Nebraska Extension aims to help the state’s Latino students reach high school graduation and attend college.
The Juntos (which means “together” in Spanish) program was recently piloted in Columbus with approximately 10 families participating in a series of educational workshops. The program is designed to unite community partners to provide Latino middle school students and parents with knowledge, skills and resources that prevent youth from dropping out of school while encouraging families to strive for college access.
As part of Juntos, Latino parents work together with their seventh- and eighth-grade students in a five-week family workshop series. Bilingual workshop leaders engage the participants in sessions focused on topics ranging from making education a family goal to exploring options for higher education.
“In developing this program, we really felt being able to conduct the workshops in Spanish would be the gatekeeper for making Juntos work,” said Jill Goedeken, a Nebraska Extension educator who worked with partners from Lakeview Community Schools and Columbus Public Schools to organize the workshops.
The Latino population is among the least educated group in the United States. According to the Pew Research Center, Latinos make up 10 percent of Nebraska’s population and that population is expected to triple by 2050. The language barrier is one of the most significant factors limiting Latinos’ educational attainment.
The first Juntos sessions in Columbus were purposely designed for smaller groups in order to create a welcoming space where parents and students felt comfortable asking questions. Guadalupe Nieto is Lakeview’s parent liaison and district translator. She led one of the Juntos workshops and witnessed the effectiveness of the smaller groups.
“The idea of higher education is a completely new concept for many Latino families,” Nieto said. “They don’t even know what questions to ask, so Juntos gives them a community where they feel safe seeking answers to the unknown.”
The design of the program, which incorporates the entire family, is also important in making it appealing to Latinos, Nieto said.
The Juntos program was funded through an innovative programming grant awarded to the Nebraska Extension issue team focused on engaging underserved youth. The team works on increasing experiential learning opportunities for youth to become more confident and capable adults.
The program was originally created by North Carolina State University and has been modeled in more than 100 communities across the country. In 2015, the program was named a “Bright Spot in Hispanic Education” by the White House on Educational Excellence for Hispanics initiative.
In addition to Columbus, Grand Island, Lincoln, Madison, Omaha, Scottsbluff and South Sioux City received Juntos training and those locations are expected to offer the program in the future.