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Guest blog: Closing the achievement gap for Latino kids

By Guest Blogger

By Diego Uriburu, co-founder and executive director of Identity.

By age 16, Elam had been out of school for two years. Although he’d dropped out of school the first time, he knew he needed to turn his life around and that the best way to do that was to complete his education. Going back to school was extremely difficult, but that’s where Elam found Identity, an organization that provides afterschool programs for low-income Latino students in Montgomery County, Maryland.

“I enrolled in school and worked hard, but my passion and my escape was soccer,” Elam says. “That’s how I first met Coach Efrain Viana, who came to school to recruit for the Identity league. What I liked immediately was that everyone got a chance and was treated like family. I wasn’t alone anymore. Identity pushed me to work hard in school as well as on the field, and to take every opportunity presented. Opportunities like college — Coach Efrain connected me with coaches at Washington Adventist University. I started last fall with a full scholarship.”

Elam’s story is just one of the examples of afterschool making a difference to the youth who need it most. But the futures of young people like Elam have been put in jeopardy as the administration moves to eliminate funding for afterschool programs.

A holistic approach to serving high-risk youth

Identity supports the successful transition of high-risk youth into adulthood with a range of trauma-informed programs that are grounded in the Positive Youth Development model and work to increase protective factors and reduce risk factors. In addition to curriculum-based social and emotional skill building, our programs include math, reading and STEM enrichment, soccer + mentoring and workforce development. Intensive case management, behavioral health services, and parent education reinforce all of our programs.

And we know the combination of services works. Identity collects process and outcome data on all programs and develops extensive evaluation data by way of baseline, follow-up, and exit surveys across programs that are analyzed by an external evaluator. What are the results?

  • 55 percent of Identity youth who had faced challenges with conflict resolution reported increased skill in resolving conflict
  • 76 percent of Identity youth who reported high levels of delinquent behaviors decreased these behaviors at the end of the program
  • More than 9 in 10 of the middle schoolers in Identity’s 21st Century Community Learning Center programs passed their math class with a grade of C or higher. 78 percent passed Algebra 1 in ninth grade with a grade of C or higher, compared to 33 percent of their Latino peers at their high schools. 

Plus, we support the youths’ ultimate support system -- the families that love and care for them. 63 percent of parents of Identity youth reported they had increased their level of engagement in their child’s school and academics because of Identity’s programs.

Fighting back the achievement gap

The achievement gap begins early and ends tragically. Only 28 percent of Latino children demonstrate kindergarten readiness upon enrollment in Montgomery County Public Schools (Readiness Matters! Ready at Five), while older children face the highest dropout and lowest graduation rate of all groups at 79 percent (Bethesda Magazine).

Our own research shows Identity youth suffer from higher rates of individual or multiple (3+) Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) (including exposure to violence and long separations from parents due to immigration) compared to U.S. and Maryland youth. The majority of Latino youth have been exposed to ACES before the end of high school (79 percent) and, the picture is far worse for recently arrived youth fleeing violence (99 percent). These youth struggle with emotional isolation and exhibit high rates of unaddressed trauma.

Without the enrichment and opportunities provided by organizations like Identity, we all know how this story ends: many of these students will fail. But the data shows that quality afterschool programs can turn those statistics around and make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth.

Identity and other nonprofit afterschool providers are reducing or closing down programs as the administration moves to cut funding for afterschool programs. Two of our three 21st Century Community Learning Center programs have ended and there is no money for renewal in the current budget. Without a sustained commitment to funding for programs that serve at-risk youth, programs will close and we will see fewer stories like Elam’s—and more tragic statistics.