By Edward Graham
As the nation celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, a group of politicians, business, and education leaders – including NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen García – gathered in Washington, DC for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Public Policy Conference. They discussed the educational opportunities, economic impact, and career potential of Hispanic-Americans in the changing American landscape.
Framed under the larger theme of “Our Time: A Strong America,” the conference kicked off with an Education, Economy & Workforce Plenary that featured opening remarks from Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education. Their remarks were followed by a panel discussion focusing on the role Latinos will play in the economic recovery, as well as the higher education opportunities available to them and their growing importance in the American job market.
In addition to NEA’s Eskelsen-Garcia, featured panelists included William D. Hansen, President and CEO, USA Funds; Monica Lozano, CEO, impreMedia; and Jamie P. Merisotis, President & CEO, Lumina Foundation.
As many of the speakers and panelists noted during the opening plenary, the Latino community is a rapidly growing demographic of the American population. Over the last 30 years, the U.S. Hispanic population has increased by almost 40 million —from 14.6 million in 1980 to almost 52 million as of 2012. And the growing number of Latinos has spearheaded a dramatic rise in the number of identified minority Americans. By 2018, children born in America will be majority-minority; by 2043, the entire nation will become majority-minority.
As minorities are poised to assume an increasingly important role in the future of America, their ability to lead will require what Senator Menendez called: “a significant transformation that will require Latinos and other groups to have role models for leadership, mentors to look up to, and teachers who can unlock their potential.”
With such a dramatic demographic shift looming in the not-too-distant future, it becomes all the more important for Latinos and other minorities to have equal access to top-notch educational opportunities and quality higher education institutions. As Eskelsen-García pointed out during the discussion, it’s important that schools, teachers, and the nation as a whole support the creativity and talents of minority and Latino students.
“One of the things we need to do is reach out to the families that are really counting on their schools to care about the whole child,” said Eskelsen-García, who is also a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Education Excellence for Hispanics. “We need dynamic collaboration to personalize the need for the students and their families and their greater community. We need to let the families know that their children may be eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. We need to make sure that these families understand that these schools exist where they care about the whole child.”
Eskelsen-García also spoke about the NEA’s Raise Your Hand campaign, a national initiative to provide for teacher and community collaboration, as one way of helping to raise up students and their communities at-large.
“Our educators are being innovative, they’re collaborating with their communities,” says Eskelsen-García. “We’ve put a fund together at the NEA—the Raise Your Hand Campaign—of over $6 million dollars that comes from our teachers so that we can start using their good ideas. And they’re excited—they’re out there collaborating in their communities, and many of those communities are communities of color, they’re communities with poverty.”
With the transformative power of education, Latinos and other minorities can gain the tools, resources, and, above all, quality education they need to become leaders. Working to ensure that all students have unfettered access to an education will strengthen the country’s workforce, and provide a boost the economic integrity of the United States.
“Hispanic Americans are an integral part of the American democratic process far beyond election day,” Senator Menendez said during his remarks. “And it has become increasingly clear that the needs and contributions of our communities, particularly the right to a quality education, regardless of the happenstance of where you were born or what station in life you were born to, should not matter. That quality education should be there for every child and certainly for every Latino child, whether they live in the most affluent community in America or in El Barrio.”
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) is a non-profit and non-partisan organization that provides leadership, and develops programs and educational services for Latino students and emerging leaders. For more information on CHCI and its programs and events, please visit: http://www.chci.org