At the Jan. 28 meeting of the Distrcit 202 School Board, senior social worker Aracely Canchola, Latino Liaison Mercedes Fernandez, and history teacher Estefanie Ithier presented several of the outreach and academic initiatives Evanston Township High School has in place to facilitate the engagement of Latino students and parents in the ETHS community.

Among these are the Latino Liaison, translation and interpretation services, the ETHS Latino Advisory Committee, Latino QUEST(questioning, understanding, education together) and SHPE (the Society of Hispanic and Professional Engineers.)

Family Outreach

As Latino Liaison and Minority Language Coordinator, Ms. Fernandez coordinates not only English-Spanish translations but also serves as intermediary for the high school and the Evanston/Skokie Latino community as well as for parents who speak other languages. Twenty translators were used during the parent-teacher conferences last fall, she said. Phone calls handled by the office include requests to set up appointments with teachers, social workers, counselors, etc.; disputes of a student’s detention or grade; and requests for information on community resources for situations such as domestic violence, immigration procedures, fair housing, health, psychological services and the like, Ms. Fernandez said,

As the intermediary, Ms. Fernandez said, she has “established a productive relationship with most of the [Latino]families in the District, through written communication, phone calls, Latino Advisory Committee meetings and in person. Services included the translation or review, or both, of 509 pieces of communication between Latino families and ETHS. The monthly Latino Advisory Committee meetings included both practical and cultural activities – for example, a field trip to the National Museum of Mexican Arts in Pilsen and basic computer classes in Spanish. Ms. Fernandez says she counts on the help of 19 parent volunteers who help with meetings and events.

Board member Jonathan Baum asked how many families require translation services. Ms. Fernandez responded that Latino parents in about 80 ETHS families speak English fluently. Most parents who are not fluent in English do not want to attend large meetings “because they are ashamed” that they don’t know the language and feel singled-out by needing a translator. “They want to have their own private meetings in smaller venues,” she said.

Mr. Baum also asked how the team members “address the diversity within the Latino community.” Ms. Canchola said there is not a significant diversity, because “85 percent of the Latino community in Evanston is Mexican-American.”

Student Engagement

Latino QUEST provides a “voice for the ETHS Latino student body and attempts to build awareness” of challenges to the academic success of Latino students, said Ms. Canchola. Over the past eight years, Latino QUEST has grown from 10 students to about 60, she said.

At the regular meetings, “We talk about cultural awareness and affirmation. Students feel lost and not connected to the school,” said Ms. Canchola. Since there are no classes in Chicano studies – studies of the experiences of Latinos in the United States – these discussions help connect students to their culture, she said.

Academics play a large part as well, and one of the goals of Latino QUEST is to develop leaders who will make other Latino students feel comfortable taking honors and Advanced Placement classes and participating in extra-curricular activities, said Ms. Canchola.

The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) invites all students, Hispanic and non-Hispanic, who are interested in pursuing a college degree in STEM (sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics), said Ms. Ithier. SHPE began 10 years ago in partnership with Omega Delta Phi, the Hispanic engineers’ fraternity at Northwestern University. “Students come over every Thursday to meet with the SHPE students,” she said.

There are regional and national competitions, and twice in recent years a team has traveled to Washington, D.C., to compete in the nationals, Ms. Ithier said.

Measures of Success

The vision for the future includes specific measures for the success of the Latino programs and initiatives:

• Ensuring that Latino students feel connected to ETHS;

• Increasing the number of Latino students in honors and AP classes;

• Decreasing the dropout rates of Latino males;

• Reestablishing the mentoring program with eighth-graders; and

• Collecting data to track the impact of Latino QUEST

Board member Bill Geiger said, “I applaud you” for the list of accountability and success measurements.

Board member Pat Savage-Williams said, “I am almost always struck by how similar the needs of Latino students are to those of African American students. … “You are touching the lives of these kids in ways you don’t even know.”

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...