Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Latino Teacher reduces dropouts

Good story on a Sacramento teacher, and a graduate of our Bilngual /Multicultural Education Dept. at CSU-S.
Young Teacher Helps At-Risk Youth Find Pride from the Past
Written for the web by Ayesha Thomas, Multimedia Producer

The town of Greenfield is ripe with farms, fields of tomatoes, chiles and lettuce – picked by a large migrant farm community. Tucked away in the Salinas Valley of Monterey County the town has limited education resources. The high school drop-out rate is high. For many of the youth, there are limited avenues to get out of Greenfield.

For Martin Ramirez though, one word opened his world wide open. Throughout high school Ramirez ran with gangs.

"All of my friends are either dead, locked up or in jail," said Ramirez.

But now his life is much different. Today he is a teacher at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, a profession he never even considered.

"Never entered my mind because I was driving teachers crazy when I was in school," said Ramirez.

But one of his teachers noticed the young man didn’t only have street smarts. Mr. Dean Willingham had a heart-to-heart with Ramirez when he was 18. He simply told him he had "potential."

"Nobody had told me that. Truth is I didn’t even know what potential meant. I was 18 years old and I said 'potential?' I go, 'What does potential mean?'"

He quickly learned the definition and with Willingham’s help he decided to put that potential to the test. He applied and was accepted to American River College. In the fall of 2000, Ramirez piled his belongings into his car and headed up 101-North from Greenfield to Sacramento.

Ramirez would be the first in his family to go to college. And despite the opportunities that lie ahead, he admits his dreams were still small.

"All I wanted was a little certificate to work in a front office. I remember the counselor Mr. Ruedas asked 'Why? why do you want to do that?'"

Manuel Ruedas works at ARC with students on developing their education and career goals. He says it’s not uncommon for first-generation students to fail to fully understand what they can do with a college education, mostly because they’re the first in their families to pursue an education.

"They need role models. They need to see their peers achieving academically so they can follow the same path," Ruedas said.

Ramirez found his role model in Dolores Delgado-Campbell a professor at ARC.

"I started meeting him in my Mexican-American history class. And I befriended him because he was a really nice young man. And he looked eager," said Delgado-Campbell.

Ramirez not only took a liking to his new mentor, but the subject matter she introduced him to.

Learning about his Mexican ancestors inspired Ramirez. He felt all Latinos could benefit from their history. So he buckled down, hit the books and learned all he could. He then went to Delgado-Campbell and asked if there were classes where he could learn to teach the history about his ancestors.

Delgado-Campbell and Ruedas both recommended he go to CSU Northridge. After he graduated from ARC with honors that is where he went. Ramirez majored in Chicano and Ethnic studies.

After graduating from Northridge with honors, Ramirez made his way back to Northern California to attend Sacramento State’s Multi-Cultural/Bi-Lingual Education program.

The director of the program Duane Campbell (husband of Dolores Delgado-Campbell) says training minority educators and administrators such as Ramirez is essential in helping to close the achievement gap.

"Having a Hispanic president of the college doesn’t necessarily lead to more Hispanic graduates," said Campbell. However, he says if minority students see other people of color achieving success academically and professionally, they will be encourage to believe they do belong in college, and they can graduate.

Ramirez takes that knowledge with him each time steps foot on the campus of Luther Burbank. "We need more educators of color," Ramirez says. "If the student sees someone that looks like them and can relate to them every single day...that person is telling them look, look at me,look at you. You can do it."

During school hours, Ramirez teaches a world history, economics, and Latino/Latina leadership class. After hours, his classroom transforms into special hub where he takes time to mentor students having a hard time in and outside of class.

Ramirez believes the extra hours it takes to mentor students is well worth it. Occasionally, Ramirez will bring in yearbooks and graduation photos from some of his younger family members who have graduated from college. He hopes when his students see the pictures that they can envision themselves one day walking around a college campus.

"They don’t know anyone there and they don’t know anyone telling them they can make it there. And I believe repetition and examples helps them to make an action plan for themselves." said Ramirez.

His students have taken a liking to Ramirez’ style. Watching him interact with them, you can see how they look up to him as not only as a respected authority on their culture, but also a big brother and for some even a father-figure. At one meeting Ramirez sits down with two students to catch up on what’s going on in their lives. Elisabeth Starr catches him up on her activities at her church and softball.

Before she met Ramirez she didn’t believe she would live to see her 17th birthday. Starr admits she got into fights at school and had a hard time staying focused. However, learning about her Mexican history has given her a new perspective on her education.

"We had to fight to be in school. So now that we have a choice to be in school it made me really think. They fought hard back in the day for us, so I should make it mean something and be here," said Starr.

For Ramirez, he believes all schools should make it a point to teach students something valuable about their own cultures.

"Students need to be taught things that relate to them. We’ve been taught the same history over and over. We need to teach them a little bit about their own history," Ramirez said. "I guarantee you we’ll have less problems in the classroom."

Created: 2/19/2007 11:49:50 PM
Updated: 2/21/2007 8:07:12 AM

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