Creating a Model for Latinxcellence
In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 – Oct. 15), Communities in Schools of Atlanta is proud to feature a guest column from Jonathan Peraza Campos, site coordinator at Cross Keys High School in DeKalb County.
Georgia is one of 12 states in the union with at least 1 million residents of Latin American descent. More than 60 million people from Latin American countries live in the United States. We represent the country’s largest ethnic minority at 18.5 percent. Black Americans constitute 13.4 percent of the population.
At Communities in Schools of Atlanta, we serve thousands of Latinx students across the metro region. In early 2020 BC – before coronavirus – I joined the organization as one of two site coordinators at Cross Keys High School, where nearly 90 percent of the student population hails from a Latin American country. I had recently returned from Guatemala where I taught as a Fulbright ETA scholar.
I’m the first-generation of relatives born in the United States but my roots go back to El Salvador and Guatemala. Growing up, resources were few, as were people who looked like me that I could look up to. Yet through sheer willpower, the support of my family, and the guidance of good samaritans, I am in school for my master’s degree and plan to follow that up with a doctoral degree.
First-generation residents experience many of the same struggles as other minority groups – including discrimination and a lack of representation. In recent years, the severity of ethnic bias has become much more alarming and dangerous.
Through our Latinxcellence program, CIS of Atlanta has implemented a four-pronged approach to better serve the Latinx community in our schools: 1) serving and empowering students, 2) communicating with and empowering parents, 3) communicating with and teachers and developing Latinx-friendly school cultures, and 4) collaborating with community partners.
While teaching in Guatemala, I worked to disrupt my students’ and other teachers’ perceptions that the United States is a white, wealthy, and perfect English-speaking country by exposing them to the multiracial, multicultural, and multilingual diversity and history of the U.S.
Here at CIS of Atlanta, I work to remind my students that they are smart enough, American enough, Latinx enough, to succeed. I teach them to see themselves beyond their imposter syndrome. Many of us who are first-generation, low-income, people of color, queer and trans, women and femmes, tend to see ourselves as unqualified or out of place.
Indeed, Latinx are waking up to our collective and individual power and potential. Data show a continual increase in the number of Latinxs with at least some college experience. According to Pew Research, the share who have a bachelor’s degree or more education also increased over the decade, from 13 to 17 percent.
As a first-generation college graduate, seeing Latinx professors in the classroom and on campus helped me picture myself having the same roles. That’s why building our Latinxcellence framework and working at Cross Keys is incredibly personal to me, cathartic even. I find myself talking to my younger self in conversations with students and helping them discover aspirations they’ve never considered exploring. Like me, many of these students come from single-family homes. Some are labeled as failing, written off when what they’re calling out for is attention, protection, and support.
Culturally responsive, antiracist, and abolitionist education are what’s needed to ensure our education system works for our youth, especially those where English is a second language or they may not have access to family members who can help with homework or be present for school events.
Communities in Schools of Atlanta and our allies are proud to join forces to pioneer here in the South culturally responsive programming and services to ensure Latinx students and their families can thrive in the U.S. and achieve Latinxcellence.