A Message of Hope

By Phil Kitchel posted 05-06-2022 06:00 AM


On a Friday afternoon in October 2019, I received a text message from Ramos (pseudonym used in my study), one of my research participants, while waiting at a tire rotation service. The message says: “Dr. Pu, you should check out this.” I clicked on the link in the message and was taken to a podcast hosted by a Latina professor. Ramos was one of her podcast guests. “Ramos wanted me to hear the podcast?” I said to myself and clicked Play. In the podcast, Ramos and another Latino student were sharing their experiences and journeys in college and graduate school. His story, a rather familiar one, took me back to the time I was interviewing him. Near the end of the podcast, two guest speakers were asked to give a shout-out. Ramos’s voice became lower. He paused a second and said, “I know I couldn’t be here by myself. There’re many people who supported me along the way….”

Ramos and Ana participated in my study in their junior and sophomore years in college. I studied how their surroundings affected their access to college and how their counter-stories helped us understand Latin@ students’ educational achievement in a marginalized community. Ramos’ parents immigrated to the U.S. from El Salvador, and Ana’s parents were from Mexico. They moved to Georgia because of factory job opportunities, but to make ends meet and move out of a “rough” neighborhood so their children could have a better learning environment, their parents had to take multiple jobs seven days a week. Although Ramos’s parents and Ana’s parents have limited English and rarely visited their schools to talk to their teachers, they supported their children in many ways that aren’t usually recognized as parental involvement.

Academic support that Ramos and Ana received came from their AP peers, caring teachers, and mentors at their work, which directly led to their success in wining prestigious scholarships and entering a competitive college. Three of their high school teachers always went beyond their teaching responsibilities, supporting them academically and showing them great care. Mentors at their workplaces gave them opportunities to participate in high impact activities that contributed to their success in scholarship applications (e.g., Gates Millennium Scholars). Their motivation to strive for academic excellence came from their parents’ immigration stories and their own awareness of and resistance to ethnic stereotypes they and their parents faced in the community.

Additionally, they were clearly aware that academic support and guidance they received towards college were linked to their enrollment in AP programs where few Latin@s were admitted. Ramos and Ana had to be on the top among their AP classes to be visible and recognized by their school. However, Ramos and Ana also faced challenges from ethnic and gender stereotypes both inside and outside their Latino immigrant community and school, which hindered their access to higher education. They had to battle such challenges on their own.

Ramos and Anna inspired me to write up their stories in The Educational Forum. I was so fortunate to meet these two young, passionate students and have been grateful they were able to open their doors and let me in, sharing stories about them, their families, their teachers, and friends. It is inspiring to see how Ramos and Ana were successful academically throughout high school, even though they and their families encountered many barriers, including poverty. However, their counter-stories also encourage readers to critically examine roles our schools play and could play in supporting minority students. It also cautions against using successful Latin@ youths and their stories to blame students who struggle to make it in our schools and accuse teachers of not fulfilling their responsibilities.

Currently, both Ramos and Ana are pursuing graduate degrees in the fields of college student affairs and higher education. They have a clear goal: support and promote college access and success for historically underrepresented students. Because of them, I have Hope.

 Dr. Chang Pu is an associate professor of teacher education (TESOL) and director of the ESOL endorsement program at Berry College. Her research centers on multicultural education, language minority education, and teacher education. Dr. Pu was named a Longview Foundation Global Teacher Educator fellow. Her article published in the current issue of The Educational Forum is titled “Beat the Odds: Successful Stories of ‘At-Risk’ Latino Students in Georgia, a New-Hispanic-Magnet State,” and it is available free for the month of May.