Helping Hispanic Students Succeed in Kansas City

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Only 63 percent of Latino students graduate from high school in four years, compared to 78 percent of white students, that's according to statistics from the National Council of La Raza.  Closing that gap and getting Hispanic students into college was the focus of a town-hall meeting in Kansas City today that brought the Secretary of Education and Janet Murguia from La Raza into town.  The meeting turned into a wide-spread discussion of education.

Gilbert Guerrero works with inner city kids at a charter school he helps run, called Alta Vista.

"A lot of times our kids are very insular.  They only know their neighborhoods, also very few have had parents that have graduated from high school or college," Guerrero explained.

Many of Alta Vista's students are Latino, and they have unique challenges.

"We know that a lot of them didn't participate in early childhood programming, so they're coming from behind from that," Guerrero said.

In fact, La Raza claims less than half of Latino four-year-olds attend preschool.  Through small class sizes and personal connections, Guerrero says his students have the best math scores in the city, and a low drop-out rate, but it hasn't been without the help of parents who are involved in the school.  Marco Davis works for a White House initiative that spans several presidential administrations focused on helping Latino students.  He believes educating families is a good way to help Latino students.

"There's no question that there are challenges, but there are actually quite a number of resources and so on that we believe if more people knew about, we think more students could take advantage of."

Back to the Alta Vista charter school, students there have had great success and strong leaders.  That's what Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says Kansas City, Missouri schools are missing consistent leadership.

"I can't tell you how disappointing that is, how that perpetuates failure, how that is a recipe for disaster, that is not a badge of honor.  I want to be explicitly clear, that is not a badge of honor," Duncan said.

Duncan, appointed by President Obama, was in Kansas City on a multi-city tour called Education Drives America.  He says students in Kansas City have been under-served by the district in the past, but he says in the future he's confident the community is ready to come together to fix the school district and make it stronger.

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