Acknowledging complaints from dozens of Latino parents, Evanston Township High School officials Monday made 34 proposals to improve the bilingual program and other services.
The recommendations include translating report cards and other materials into Spanish, adding honors classes to the bilingual program, offering a conference for incoming Latino freshman families, and monitoring students’ progress after they move into mainstream classes.
For some parents, the changes won’t come fast enough. At least 60 families formed the Union of Latino Parents this school year, launching a series of meetings with school administrators that led to the recommendations by three committees.
The School District 202 board expects to vote on some recommendations at future meetings, but many changes would not take effect until next fall or next year.
The parents say that for years they have remained silent, often because of fear or language barriers. Now they represent a new generation that wants to be sure minority issues aren’t all framed in terms of black and white.
Hispanic students at Evanston Township High School have doubled in the past 10 years–to 232 students–and now make up 7.4 percent of the student body. Of the 3,120 students, 48 percent are white, 40 percent black, 2.5 percent Asian and 2.1 percent multiracial, officials said.
One mother, Soledad Rentario, 31, says the school needs to ensure teachers take the time to help their children and hold them to high expectations. Her parents moved to Evanston from Mexico when she was a toddler, and out of her eight siblings, only one graduated from high school.
She wants her own six children to break the cycle. But she says her eldest, a son, Adrian, 15, immediately had trouble with a few teachers last fall when he entered school as a freshman.
“My parents did not know the language or anything, so they weren’t involved,” Rentario said. “Before I used to be so shy and quiet. I was embarrassed to be in front of people. But seeing everything Adrian had to go through–he was so sad. That was the power that let me go on.”
Adrian Rentario said he was removed from a math class more than a dozen times after asking other students to help him when the teacher refused. His parents transferred him to two different classes, and his grades have improved ever since, his mother said. He is fond of art and aspires to be an architect.
“One time my history teacher told me when I turned 16 I would go to night school,” said Adrian Rentario, referring to the evening high school program for students who are struggling or have special needs. “I was doing my work, but he’d see me horse-playing and say, ‘You’ll go to night school.'”
Other parents complain too many Latino students are placed in inappropriate classes and then told to attend night school after their grades falter.
School officials agree that after it was brought to their attention, they found eight students who were in lower-level Spanish courses despite their skills.
But they point to figures that show only 15 Latino students were enrolled in October in night school, compared with 61 African-American students and eight whites.
“Parents calling us to task is a good thing because there’s always something more we can do,” Principal Denise Martin said. “There also should be recognition for effort and things that have been done.”
School board member Elizabeth Tisdahl, who has attended several meetings with the parents, agreed but cautioned that all Latino students and parents do not share the same experiences.
“We’re trying to make changes and communicate with Latino parents that, while we need to change, they need to change also,” Tisdahl said. “Absenteeism is a problem and continues to be, in Evanston and nationwide.”
Rev. Robert Oldershaw of St. Nicholas Catholic Church, who has been involved in discussions with the school district, says educators would do well to try to understand realities of culture and hardship.
“The high school has certainly tried to respond,” Oldershaw said. “But I’m not sure if the high school is really hearing them.”