The Latino Empowerment Team (LET) is a group of twelve Washington University in St. Louis undergraduate students who are interested in education reform, increasing diversity on college campuses nationwide, and have a strong desire to help Latino youth. This is our second year in operation; our primary program is an annual alternative spring break trip to an area in the United States with a large number of low-income minority students. The purpose of the trip is to visit high school classrooms to give an interactive presentation that highlights what many minority students see as obstacles to attaining higher education. We hope to dispel any misconceptions they may have and provide solutions to the obstacles they face in the form of skits, games, and an open-panel discussion. We think the most effective part of our presentation is that it’s more of an exchange than a lecture; also, the high school students are very receptive to students just a few years older than them. Most of the LET members are minorities themselves and heavily rely on financial aid and scholarships to attend college, so we are able to offer very personal advice to the students.
This year LET will travel to McAllen and Harlingen, Texas. Our group has written a script that includes realistic scenes outlining obstacles Latinos face when applying to college: parental, financial and social. Furthermore, our script has fun, interactive games like “Jeopardy” and “Family Feud” where students learn what tools they need to get into college, resources available to them, and possible scholarship or other financial support they can receive, while still having fun.
Our script will also focus on educating Latino students that might have parents residing illegally in the United States that they also can apply to college and receive funding. A lot of these students are under the impression that they can’t apply to college without exposing the illegal status of their parents and we hope to change this misconception.
The way we will measure success will be through the number of students we were able to speak to and the evaluations we receive back from the students (we will create evaluations that students can fill out telling us what they liked about our presentation and improvements we can make for the next year). Because our group is made up of only twelve students, it is impossible to keep track of all the students we present to and which ones end up applying to and attending college. However, we believe that if we can even encourage one Latino student to go to college that wasn’t planning on going before, we have made a difference. Who knows, that student could be the next Garcia Marquez, Carlos Fuentes or Cesar Chavez.
We predict that our impact on the students we visit will last much longer than the hour we spend with them. In order to implement long-term contact with each other, LET has set up an e-mail account through g-mail so that students can ask us questions in the future. This e-mail will be provided to all of the students we present to over the course of the week. We will have a student constantly checking the e-mail account and answering questions students might have. We will offer our services in helping to find students scholarships, editing their college essays, and anything else they feel comfortable asking us. Many of the students that we presented to last year have contacted us, and we feel that we will receive more e-mails from them in the coming year as they begin the application process. LET will also re-send our contact information to the schools we visited in the past just in case the students misplaced it. Overall, LET will have a very positive influence on Latino youth in the area and will renew a sense of hope for the betterment of their future.