Juntos program reaches to community
By Katherine LacazeThe Daily Astorian
Ensuring one’s student is adequately prepared for post-secondary education can be daunting for any parent or guardian. The Juntos program’s six-week college readiness workshop — taught entirely in Spanish — aims to provide local Latino families with the right information to support that process.
Ryan Stanley, the coast coordinator for Juntos, offered through Oregon State University, said the biggest benefit is showing students and families “what’s possible, especially living in a smaller community.”
Mari Mitchell, a longtime educator in the Seaside School District who retired two years ago, and Leticia Campos, a teacher at the Cannon Beach Academy, facilitated a Juntos workshop for Latino families in Seaside that wrapped up Tuesday, April 24. Over the course of six weeks, participants learned about preparing students for higher education, from high school graduation requirements and standardized testing to the admissions process and obtaining financial aid.
At its core, Mitchell said, the course is about giving parents and their students “the keys to be able to open the door to higher education.”
When preparing students for college, many parents and guardians face a language barrier, which is why the curriculum is shared in Spanish, Mitchell said. Another issue families face is uncertainty about how legal documentation, or the lack thereof, affects students’ opportunities.
In Oregon, there are multiple options for all students to not only attend a post-secondary institution — whether it be community college or a university — but also obtain financial aid through the Oregon Student Aid Application, institutions themselves, or other sources, Stanley said. Mitchell agreed many families don’t realize how many resources are available to them.
The Juntos class took place at Seaside High School, and dinner and childcare were offered. Attendance varied each Tuesday evening over the course of the workshop, but Rosario Alcantar, of Seaside, was a consistent participant.
Alcantar has a son in 11th grade at Seaside High School, as well as an older daughter. When her daughter graduated a few years ago, Alcantar felt she was unprepared and lacking in pertinent knowledge to assist and support her, so she signed up for the Juntos class to be better informed this time around.
When asked what was the most important information she’d learned, Alcantar, who was translated by Campos, replied, “everything.” To elaborate, she added she learned where to apply for financial aid; the importance of visiting various universities before selecting one; and the higher education opportunities available to Dreamers or undocumented students.
Also, her son was leaning toward attending a university, she said, but after taking the workshop, they’re more seriously discussing community college as a valuable option. The same applies to Alcantar’s daughter, who has not yet achieved a college degree, but now plans to go back.
For those parents on the fence about participating in a Juntos program, she said, she would encourage them to “think about their child’s education, because education starts at home.”
Mitchell was complimentary of Alcantar’s dedication throughout the course of the class and for finishing strong, as it can be difficult for parents to add one more activity to their busy agendas.
“Was it a sacrifice of time for her? Sure. But it is her child’s education,” Mitchell said.
Involving the whole family
Juntos, which translates as “together” is Spanish, was a program started at North Carolina State University in 2007. In 2012, OSU adopted the program and adapted it for Oregon communities. Its mission is empowering families around education by providing culturally relevant activities and workshops for 8th- to 12th-grade students and parents. Juntos coordinators work directly with school districts and other community partners to implement programs locally.
OSU recently expanded Juntos to coastal, central and eastern areas in Oregon, and Sande Minnich Brown, the curriculum and Title III director for the Seaside School District, was instrumental in bringing the program to the community and handling logistics. A pilot version of Juntos’ college readiness workshop was offered at a couple sites in Clatsop County last school year.
In addition to the six-week workshop, Stanley said, the Juntos program includes follow-up monthly or bimonthly family nights to promote family and community engagement; college visits; and advisement throughout the college application and financial aid process.
“It’s a sustainable program throughout the year that families can call on for assistance,” he said.
This year, the college readiness class has been offered in Seaside, Tillamook, Newport and Lincoln City. A joint class for the Astoria and Warrenton school districts started Tuesday, April 24, at the Warrenton Grade School. The class, facilitated by Amanda Casian-Marquez, a grade school teacher, and Andrea Gonzalez, with the Lower Columbia Hispanic Council, runs from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Dinner and childcare is provided.
At the conclusion, participants from both that workshop and the Seaside workshop will travel to Corvallis for a tour of OSU. High school students, parents and siblings are invited along, as “one of the biggest parts of the program is the whole family is involved,” Stanley said.
As a benefit, students of all ages get a glimpse of what’s possible and realize going on to higher education is an obtainable goal, he said. A nice side effect is many parents are also inspired to pursue further education, whether it be acquiring a GED or working toward a college degree.
“Education is something no one can take away from you,” Stanley said.