Launched in September at two middle schools in Gwinnett
The LAA expanded its college preparedness program for Latino youth into Gwinnett County in fall 2014.
The after-school program, named the Latino Youth Leadership Academy, currently operates at Sequoyah Middle School and Cross Keys High School in DeKalb County. Two middle schools in Gwinnett County joined the program in September 2014, raising the number of participants to 160.
The expansion comes as the LAA is trying to reach out to more Latino students to help them stay in school, graduate high school and go on to college and careers.
“Gwinnett County has the largest number of Latino students in the state,” said Lynnette Aponte, the LAA’s managing director of youth programs. “The middle schools where we are expanding have the highest percent of Latino students in the county.”
Latino students tend to drop out of high school at a higher rate than non-Latinos, in part because of their lack of attachment to school and extracurricular activities, she explained. The LAA program works with students and their parents to keep students engaged in school so they are less likely to drop out.
The Latino Youth Leadership Academy, led by LAA staff, certified teachers and college interns on site, offers Latino middle and high school students academic support, leadership development and college preparedness, with parent involvement playing an important role. The goal is for college to seem attainable to students as young as sixth graders.
The Latino Youth Leadership Academy was launched with sixth graders at Sequoyah Middle School in 2011. Those sixth graders are now tenth graders at Cross Keys High School. A new cohort of sixth graders joins the program every year.
The program includes two days of after-school activities during the school year, plus a summer component. “During the summer, we do more hands-on activities focused on academics so that students don’t lose knowledge when they are out of school,” Aponte said. “Students will get a taste of the courses they will be taking next year.”
At the program’s end-of-school-year celebration in May 2014, the LAA marked with fanfare the transition of the eighth grade participants into high school, with each of the 40 eighth graders receiving a certificate as parents beamed with pride. Diego Castro, who joined the program in the sixth grade, said that he is looking forward to high school.
“I learned that education is important, and finishing college is important in order to find a good job,” Castro said. “[The program] has helped me a lot through the years.”
Students who just completed the ninth grade at Cross Keys High School were the first students in the LAA program to transition into high school. Cross Keys High School English teacher Jake Eismeier, who taught the ninth graders in the program, said he has seen an improvement in performance this past year.
“We’ve seen their writing grow by leaps and bounds, their analytical writing,” Eismeier added. “I’ve seen them mature. They are ready for the tenth grade.”
Eismeier said that the LAA program gives students a head start to get thinking about college.
“It’s incredible for the students to have this extra support from the LAA and to learn about college so early,” he said. “They’re starting three to four years earlier than their peers. The earlier they can say to themselves ‘I’m going to college,’ the more likely it will happen.”