What does Latino academic achievement look like?  Unfortunately, that picture has historically been a bleak one, when our students are compared with other ethnicities. We all know that our students have unlimited potential and talent—but all too often, Latino students lack essential resources and tools for achieving academic success.

 

Changing that picture is a critical goal, not only for our Hispanic communities, but for our entire country.  And we are changing the lives of our Hispanic students.  As we know, a solid educational foundation provides a step up out of poverty and toward economic stability and professional success.  At LNESC, we focus on helping Latino students achieve their academic goals and access the opportunities they deserve.  We provide quality educational opportunities to high-need Latino students at all grade levels, with the ultimate goal of creating lifelong learners and strong leaders within our community.  So far, we have served over 500,000 students, sent 150,000 students to college, and awarded almost $20 million in scholarships.

 

In our efforts to prepare students for their futures, we also offer innovative programs that focus on leadership training, college access, literacy, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).  Latinos tend to be underrepresented in the STEM fields and in those majors. Proficiency in these areas is especially important for our future innovators and leaders; additionally, STEM professionals in these growing fields earn higher-than-average salaries. “Our program targets Latinos, the fastest growing demographic in the U.S., so that we can increase the number of STEM career professions among Latinos,” said Richard Roybal, executive director of LNESC. “Once students are exposed to and become interested in these fields of study, they can aim for careers that will better serve their communities while also helping the U.S. remain competitive in the global marketplace.”

 

One way that we’re working to increase diversity in the STEM fields is through our Science Corps program, a middle school program designed to ignite students’ curiosity about these subjects and encourage interest in these academic majors.  We do this by exposing the students to real-world scientific problems in topics such as materials science, energy, and environmental science.  In hands-on sessions led by diverse STEM professionals, students perform experiments, collect data, and complete tasks in pursuit of solutions and answers to those problems.  Along the way, many discover a passion for science, as they learn about the fulfilling careers, exciting challenges, and educational opportunities that can await them.  We’ve had success with this and similar programs thanks to our many corporate partners like Shell, Verizon, Nissan, AT&T, Ford, Marathon Oil and General Motors who invest in STEM education.  I’m pleased to report that the picture of Latino student achievement is changing, and for the better.

 

As we work together to discover new ways we can help more Latino students achieve academic success, it becomes clear that we must increase access to the tools that facilitate learning and deliver possibilities.  Adoption of next-generation broadband services and applications are a most vital tool that can enhance education and help students develop the skills they will need for success in the 21st century economy.  Yet, too many of our students lack reliable access to fast, modern broadband service. That’s a problem because broadband access has the potential to transform education in this country for all students.

 

Broadband connectivity can deliver technology-assisted, individualized lessons to students and to teachers.  Online educational games, lessons, and quizzes can engage students, enhancing learning as well as encouraging students to seek out additional information.  Innovative learning tools and interactive games can complement classroom learning in every subject, and online courses can offer enrichment or provide extra help to all students, regardless of location or educational level.  This essential connectivity can help level the playing field, reducing disparities between schools in different locales and delivering true equality of opportunity to anyone, regardless of ethnicity or race—anyone with broadband access, that is.

 

Upgrading our nation’s broadband infrastructure and expanding access to 21st century connectivity will help our students find the information and resources they need.  An enhanced infrastructure that reaches every corner of the country will also help organizations that are dedicated to increasing academic achievement for these bright young people.  Yesterday’s networks can’t meet tomorrow’s needs, and accelerating the shift to advanced broadband-based technologies will help us all benefit from new capabilities, speeds, and services.

 

When it comes to our students, the question we ought to be asking is, “what could Latino academic achievement look like?”  Those old trends are changing; a more hopeful view of the future is emerging.  Now is an exciting time for our community. We have new sources of optimism and new ways to reach students and show them the opportunities that could be theirs—but we still have more work to do.  Next-generation broadband connectivity can help us unlock potential in our next generation of leaders and innovators.

 

Elia Quintana is the Director of Corporate Relations, LULAC National Educational Service Centers.