Imagine trying to navigate a new school district. Then add a language barrier, trying to have a career, plus raising family in a different culture.
Those are the challenges facing some Hispanic families in Goodhue County. To help those families better understand the education system, help those students succeed, and have parents pass down cultural lessons, Hispanic Outreach started an after school tutoring program in the Red Wing School District.
The tutoring is done at the high school and middle school, but at Twin Bluff something different has been going on over the last three months. Parents of Hispanic students are using the second half of each session to speak with students about their experiences as immigrants and teaching them about their culture.
Students who came to the area when they were young or were born here might not be aware of their heritage, according to Lucy Richardson and Cella Langer.
Having the parents and children together can be beneficial both ways.
"We want to help them to understand," Richardson said about the parents. "To be educated. To be involved in their child's education. What parent doesn't want their kids to be successful?"
One of those parents is Yaneth Santiago, who jumped at the chance to be involved in the tutoring program. Santiago and other Hispanic parents were worried about "losing their culture," wanting to make sure their children understood where they came from.
As Richardson said, the adults need children to know the parents want to help them be successful, yet parents have a learning curve of their own.
"Even the parents, they came to this school, they didn't even know where the library was," Santiago said. "It's kind of opened the eyes of the parents to see the school, know where the kids are, know where the classrooms are. It was amazing - open for the parents and the kids. I think the kids feel more comfortable when the parents come and participate in the activities."
When the tutoring session begins, Langer, who has been an employee of Hispanic Outreach since 2017, goes over homework assignments with the students. Langer said they've been lucky to have high school tutors come to help, giving the younger students a role model.
Blending culture and academics has always been of interest Langer and Richardson, the executive director of Hispanic Outreach. When Santiago and the other parents decided to incorporate their lessons, they group couldn't wait to get started.
"Because for us, we can plan and plan and plan all we want," Langer said. "But ultimately, the people who know best what the students need are the students' parents. In order for us to know what the parents think the students need, they need to be involved."
"That is important to take pride and also to help young people that often times are confused with their heritage," Richardson said. "Especially the ones that are born here. We want to help them find their identity."
The parental lessons aren't something easy they breeze through at the end of a tutoring session either. Parents speak Spanish to the students and require them to reply in Spanish. Phrases, sentences, words, everything is practiced by the students and parents.
Langer said they've focused on Hispanic holidays, having parents talk about their familial history, and speaking Spanish as often as possible. Santiago said having the students speak Spanish is important on a cultural level, but could also give the students a leg up when it comes to finding a career.
"We wanted them to practice both languages because in the future, when they are working, they'll have another door open for them when they speak both languages," Santiago said.
There's a lot of "teamwork" between Hispanic Outreach and parents to help the children during the tutoring sessions, according to Santiago.
She encourages other Hispanic families to get involved.
As Langer says, we all do better when we all do better. If Hispanic Outreach and the family's can help the students succeed, the district will succeed and vice versa.
That's Hispanic Outreach's goal, according to Richardson. The organization wants to break down the barriers between the Hispanic community and the rest of the county. To become incorporated as one, showing that Hispanic people are here to contribute, to help and to be supportive.
The program is grant funded, something Richardson and Langer will continue to seek going forward. Ideally, they'd like to see the program in every school district throughout the county.
For now, they need more tutor volunteers-people don't need to speak Spanish necessarily-and continued support from the community and its donors.
Richardson said the notion that districts can provide all of the help the student needs is just not realistic. Districts have limitations, trying to help every single student as much as possible. Having Hispanic Outreach and the dedicated families involved will help the next generation succeed throughout their life.
For Hispanic families interested in being involved in the program, reach out to Hispanic Outreach for more information.