Group aims to identify the challenges faced by local Hispanic students
Hispanic youths often slip under the radar when it comes to education. It’s likely because they’re not as numerous as Chinese, South Asians, and Filipinos in B.C.
“We fall through the cracks,” says Jorge Salazar, an organizer with the Raices Latin American Cultural Society. Raices is Spanish for “roots”.
Earlier this summer, Salazar’s group was raising scholarship funds for students of Latin American descent at an event in East Vancouver when he was interviewed by the Georgia Straight.
“We know that going to university helps [youths] to be successful,” said the Colombian man who came to Canada 11 years ago. “So we’re supporting people in this scholarship process.”
Helping students get through university is one thing. Getting them to take up postsecondary education in the first place is another. According to a 2008 study by the Canadian Council on Learning, Hispanic and Vietnamese students enrolled in English-as-a-second-language courses in B.C. have “significantly lower” high-school graduation rates than those of other ethnic groups.
Achievement levels differ among students taking ESL courses, according to the report, titled Lessons in Learning: Understanding the Academic Trajectories of ESL Students. Native Chinese and Korean speakers get better grades than native English speakers in Math 12. But Hispanic, Filipino, and Vietnamese students are “substantially below the native English-speaker baseline” in that subject. The same pattern holds in Physics 12 and Chemistry 12.
Last spring, Raices organized a community forum in Burnaby about the educational challenges faced by Latinos in Metro Vancouver. The group invited the authors of a groundbreaking exploratory study about Hispanic youths in the Toronto public school system: University of Toronto associate professor Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández and Cristina Guerrero, a Toronto high-school teacher and PhD student.
They conducted the study in the wake of an alarming finding by the Toronto District School Board. Not only were Latino students among those consistently scoring the lowest on tests in core school subjects and on standardized literacy exams, about 40 percent of them were not even graduating from high school.
Gaztambide-Fernández and Guerrero released their first report in 2011. In it, they looked at personal, family, and institutional factors that were influencing learning outcomes. After interviewing students, they highlighted barriers due to language, socioeconomic status, stereotypes, and adult relationships.
Unlike in the U.S., says Guerrero, very little research has been done on Latino youths in the Canadian context. The second-generation Ecuadoran Canadian believes that a similar project in Metro Vancouver might yield similar results.
“It’s quite possible, because the key themes had to do with linguistic challenges and integrating into Canadian society,” Guerrero told the Straight in a phone interview from Toronto.
Raices organizer Ana Linares said her group is exploring the idea of asking school boards in the Lower Mainland if they are open to the possibility of replicating the Toronto study.
“We want to know what’s happening with our youths,” Linares told the Straight in an interview at the fundraiser.
A teacher in the Coquitlam school district, the Salvadoran-born Linares emphasized that the Latin-American community in Canada is young, with an immigration history of about 30 years. “You can begin to understand why we might lack the social capital and the social networks necessary to be able to support a vibrant community,” Linares said.
According to the 2006 census, there were 28,960 Latinos in B.C. that year. About 80 percent of them, or 22,695, lived in Metro Vancouver.
Peruvian native Alicia Barsallo has taught a handful of Hispanic students in the North Vancouver school district. She says their performance was above average, regardless of their immigration history and socioeconomic status.
“I don’t see that there’s discrimination or labels or beliefs that Latinos perform less,” Barsallo told the Straight in a phone interview.
However, she believes the school system could play a role in connecting Latino students with their heritage through clubs.
Vancouver trustee Mike Lombardi admits that the Vancouver School Board hears about aboriginal students and ethnic groups such as the Chinese, but not Latin-American students. He says groups like Raices are welcome to make a presentation before the board.
“Our goal is to meet the needs of all the youths in our schools, and we need to do whatever we can to do that,” Lombardi told the Straight by phone. “If issues are brought to our attention, we try to find a process.”