Las familias latinas en Texas demandan una educación más inclusiva

Students arrived at Lyndon B. Johnson Elementary School in El Paso on Aug. 19, 2021. (Ivan Pierre Aguirre For The Texas Tribune, Ivan Pierre Aguirre For The Texas Tribune)

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In partnership with The National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation, The Texas Tribune is producing a limited series of Spanish podcast episodes focused on providing accurate information about the pandemic.

De acuerdo a la organización Latinos for Education desde el 2005 se dio un incremento de 800,000 estudiantes latinos en Texas.

Esta población tiene necesidades específicas que requieren ser atendidas, como un mayor y mejor acceso a la tecnología, recursos educativos e información en español.

Escuche el cuarto episodio de esta serie de podcasts.


Versión en español del episodio

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English translation

According to the organization Latinos for Education, there has been an increase of 800,000 Latino students in Texas in the public education system – pre-kindergarten through 12th grade – since 2005. This population has specific needs that need to be addressed, such as greater and better access to technology, educational resources, and information in Spanish.

Listen to the fourth episode of this podcast series.

María Isabel Gonzales: With the return to in-person classes, the ongoing pandemic, and the delta variant of COVID-19, stress and anxiety are only increasing among the population. Between 2020 and 2021, children and teenagers had to continue their academic learning from home, but not all students faced the same circumstances to do so.

Andy Canales, executive director of Latinos for Education, an organization dedicated to promoting Latino leadership in the education sector, tells us about the students’ needs with an example.

Andy Canales: I have a friend who is a teacher and last year he told me that a student would walk, carrying a chair from his house to the school, and sit under a tree to access the online class because he had no internet at home. And this was during the month of August, which in a city like Houston is super hot, like 100 degrees. A student spent seven hours with his computer under a tree outside the school to access his class because he had no internet at home. And this is Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States. It is an issue that has affected Latinos and communities in large cities, as well as in rural ones.

Gonzales: This is the story of many families, like that of María, a mother who lives in Mission and has two teenage children, Ernesto, 14, and Yamileth, 16. We are not using María's full name or her children's because she is an undocumented immigrant.

María: All of the 2020-2021 school year they were home. But it was very difficult because here where we live there is no access to the internet. So, the only way to access the internet is on our phones. It was the only way that they were able to access the internet to study.

It was quite stressful for them, because my daughter, for example, was up until 11 or 12 at night doing homework.

Gonzales: The direct consequences of this unpredictable situation are reflected in the mental health of the students as well as in their grades, especially those with the least access to technology.

According to state data, in the prior academic term close to 40 percent of students did not pass their math assessments; close to a third didn't pass their reading assessments. Hispanic students in districts with more than three-quarters in distance learning saw the biggest drops compared to students from other demographics. Reading assessments dropped 10 percentage points, and math assessments dropped 34 percentage points.

Now with the return to in-person learning, students also must deal with the fear of getting COVID-19.

Marco López, community organizer for La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), talks to us about the families’ concerns.

Marco López: Sometimes I think that it was cheaper for them to bring students back to schools than to try to connect them [to the internet]. They argued that children were falling too far behind because they couldn't connect, but the root of the problem is access.

I think there isn’t much movement with this technology issue, because there are so many things that are happening. For example, here in the Valley, we have had a COVID crisis because many children, since they opened schools, are getting COVID and now they are the ones who end up in the hospitals. For example, we already had a death in Mercedes.

The thing is, as these children go to schools, they get COVID and they are going to pass it to their entire family.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use for children ages 5-11.

We continue trying to urge people to get vaccinated. The thing is that they haven’t implemented a program to benefit certain colonias. Many still don’t have access. They accepted these neighborhoods as part of the program or whatever and they say they approved. They have maps of areas where they would benefit from this program, but they’re still not connected to the internet.

Gonzales: According to Marco's experience, some of the most affected areas were the colonias, which are neighborhoods outside cities, where there aren’t many public services available. In these areas, you must pay for private garbage pick up. There is no infrastructure for drainage and often there is no public lighting. Although internet access points or hotspots were provided for these areas to ensure online learning, the service or signal was not always optimal. In fact, any storm affected them.

At LUPE, organizers hope that after the completion of the census, remote areas such as the colonias may have better coverage and funds for the services they need, now that the information is within the scope of the appropriate authorities.

Marco has a message specifically for counties, school districts, the Federal Communications Commission, internet companies, and the state education agency:

López: We need broadband and accessible internet. And when I say accessible, I mean the cost of the internet needs to be cheap but with good service. For example, the City of Pharr is providing this service for all residents who live within the city.

For those who want to have access in 2022, they [the City of Pharr] are pushing for this to be able to support all residents. They don’t want people to have this problem because they see that it is a necessity and no longer a luxury. It limits our children’s ability to be able to advance in classes or careers in engineering, science, mathematics, and technology. If we don’t add them to this plan, where the majority of the United States is, we are going to continue to be left behind as always. We are not moving toward the future while everyone else is. Every six months technology advances and we are very behind. We are just trying to connect to the internet. Other people are already making their own computers, you know what I mean?

Gonzales: While in-person learning continues, the number of reported cases of coronavirus among students continues to rise and has already exceeded the total for the entire 2020-2021 school year.

According to state reports, the number changes from week to week, and as of the end of September, more than 172,000 students had tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, the mandates to wear masks vary and some schools close for the safety of their students.

Amid this somewhat chaotic scenario, a social aspect to consider, according to Latinos for Education, is that many Latino families do not have access to health insurance. Therefore, the question remains: What steps should we follow to meet the needs of children and young people so they have a quality education? Andy Canales offers some suggestions.

Canales: It is very important to understand that many of the school districts across the country are receiving a lot of money from the federal government to help students who have missed school or also for those who have not missed school, to ensure students continue moving forward.

For example, where I am based in the City of Houston, the largest district in Houston and the largest in the state here in Texas is Houston ISD. Houston ISD is going to receive $1 billion through the federal government. What are they going to do with that billion dollars?

That's where the voices of parents, families, students and our communities are very important. They have the power to use that money to make sure that students have access to after-school programs because, as we know, many parents in the community work long days. They have the power to use that money to make sure students have computers, to make sure there are enough teachers, especially bilingual teachers. And the list goes on, but they need to hear from us. Every school district usually has a board of directors and they hold meetings. Going to those meetings is a good opportunity to express our opinions about what resources our children, students, and community need.

Gonzales: According to a recent survey by Latinos for Education: 39 percent of Latino families indicated that access to technology is the resource they need most to help their children during this pandemic. Another 26 percent said what they need the most is access to educational resources. That’s because many fathers, mothers, or relatives who were home may have had access to the internet or a computer, but they still need other assistance to instruct and support students with their learning. Additionally, almost half of those surveyed said that their children's mental health had suffered greatly during the pandemic.

Another relevant issue pointed out by civil organizations is communication between families and schools. Many school districts or schools do not have enough resources, people, or information for Spanish-speaking families. It is very important that each school makes sure that each community can have access to information, especially in Texas, a state where Spanish is part of daily life.

Although the information is constantly changing, it is important to track the progress of the law that finances e-learning and to keep in mind what it’s all about. Canales offers some basic points:

Canales: What families need to know about this virtual learning law that was passed is that school districts in Texas can offer virtual education to students, but only to 10 percent of students in a school district; Number two: only if that school district has a grade of C, or better; Number three: only if the students passed last year's academic assessments. There are many students who didn’t pass the exams and would not qualify to continue their virtual learning.

Gonzales: According to mothers like María, who spoke to us about the difficulties of her teenagers during the pandemic and who attend school in the La Joya School District, there are 20 or more students in their classrooms. Currently, her children do not have the option to decide whether or not they can do virtual learning. It only applies to some specific cases.

School districts must report positive cases to their local health departments and the state. With that in mind, health experts recommend to parents that their children wear masks voluntarily and that they get vaccinated if they are eligible.

It is important to end this episode by noting that the Hispanic population is key to the state. According to Latinos for Education, since 2005 there has been an increase of 800,000 Latino students in Texas.

Therefore, various organizations that support the Hispanic population urge the authorities — the state, school districts, the Texas Education Agency and other key entities – such as the Federal Communications Commission — to provide the services that this population needs, from infrastructure to expand internet access to policies that include all students.