California Educator

APRIL 2010

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giving PowerPoint presentations to fellow classmates and teachers at Rancho Minerva Middle School in Vista. The sixth-, sev- enth- and eighth-grade boys are poised and self-assured when asked questions about the subject matter or about the special effects they used to make their onscreen presentations zing. All of the boys are Latino and enrolled in a unique class designed to motivate them to stay in school, be suc- cessful and take pride in their heritage. Their PowerPoint presentations are about a book they have just finished, Taking Sides by Gary Soto, in which the protagonist leaves a school in the barrio for one in the sub- urbs, and then strug- gles with his Latino identity. The classes, held before and af- Encuentros program shows youths path to success T hey stride confidently to the front of the class like busi- ness executives of the future, and two high schools in the Vista Unified School District. The cur- riculum was designed by Encuen- tros Leadership of North San Di- ego County, a nonprofit that wants to reduce the dropout rate among Latino boys. The classes, however, are open to all students, not just Latinos. “We had to do something,” says Joaquin Aganza Vista Teachers Association Joaquin Aganza, a VTA member and school psychologist who helps oversee the program, piloted in 2005. “In our district one out of ev- ery two students is an English learner or reclassi- fied; 53 percent of our K-12 enrollment is Hispanic; 63 per- cent of all district ex- pulsions are Hispan- ic males; and 66 per- cent of our district’s dropouts are His- panic males. Last year, 70 percent of Hispanic males were below proficiency on the California Standards Tests.” The program gets its name ter school, are taught by Vista Teachers Association (VTA) members at four middle schools from the book Encuentros: Hombre a Hombre, which translates to “En- counters: Man to Man.” It was writ- ten by Francisco Reveles, a CSU Sacramento professor and Califor- nia Faculty Association member, for the California Department of Education. This text was the inspi- ration for middle school curricu- lum designed for Encuentros Leadership by Dr. Zulmara Cline, a former literary professor at CSU San Marcos who now works in the CSU chancellor’s office as an asso- ciate director for teacher education programs. Encuentros stu- dents read books that relate to their culture, such as Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul. They learn computer skills, since many lack access to tech- nology at home. They take field trips to nearby college campuses and are en- couraged to think optimistically about the future. The standards-based curricu- encouraged to have big dreams — beyond working in fast-food res- taurants and service jobs. Encuen- tros also holds an annual career expo for students to learn about various professions. “Those who teach the classes serve as role models,” says Aganza. “And we also bring in guest speak- ers, such as Latinos who are suc- cessful in business, science, engi- neering or academia.” Guest speakers have also included teen moms or others sharing first-hand accounts of making poor choices. “We want to Mario Santiago Vista Teachers Association open up their eyes to reality,” says Da- vid Prieto, who has taught the program for three years at Ranch Minerva lum asks students to reflect on such questions as: Who are you? Where did you come from? Where are you going? The boys talk about goals, challenges and possibilities that ex- ist outside of the barrio. They are Middle School. “Sometimes what they see on MTV taints their per- ception of reality. They think they can bring that type of behavior to school and into the classroom and that everyone will be OK with that. We talk about being re- spectful to parents, toward family members and others.” “I like Encuentros because it helps kids connect to school and to their community,” says Alfred Loza, who teaches the class at Washington Middle School. “They can see that the school places value upon their culture and their story. And they feel em- powered to express themselves and take chances.” Guadalupe “Mario” Santiago, whose students were showing LEFT: Samuel Roman and Sebastian Sanchez listen to fellow students’ presentations. APRIL 2010 | 27 Photos by Scott Buschman

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