Education Wednesday: 3 Take-Aways from Los Graduados


It has not been long since I was in high school. Yet in the last seven years, so much in education and our country has changed that I often wonder what school is really like these days. The Graduates-Los Graduados answers this question. I hope you had the opportunity as I did earlier this week to catch this two-part documentary which explores the experiences of six Latino high school students and pertinent issues within the American school system.

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What is it like to be a Latino student? The Graduates- Los Graduados explores their reality. Courtesy: PBS

Despite increased numbers of Latinos enrolling into collegenow up to 22%–Latino students are still more likely to dropout of high school–1 in 3–than any other group of students. Why does this matter? Hispanics are now the largest minority group in the education system. Dr. Patricia Gándara, an educator interviewed in the documentary, sounds the alarms for our whole country:

“The U.S. will not be able to compete in the future without educating Latinos.”

I was deeply touched by the experiences of the film’s six students who themselves almost or did drop out which is why I have identified some points that I believe can improve the educational experiences of our Latino students:

3 Urgent Changes Needed in Education Inspired by the documentary Los Graduados

  1. Defining the Value of an Education: We as a country must do more to make clear for all students the importance of an education and create more pathways that connect them with their interests. It was disheartening to hear the graduados not see the benefits of an education, were weighed down with problems, and felt worthless. While all these students persevered to eventually graduate from high school, I wonder about the countless students who give up on school because they feel it has given up on them.
  2. Raising Expectations: The American school system can not continue to expect less of minority students. Students in the film experienced difficulties where schools showed little faith in them because of circumstances such as immigration status or English language proficiently–much as I discuss in Education: A Common Definition for English Language Learners. As expressed by San Antonio mayor Julián Castro, expectations are a key component of motivation for students. If expectations are not high, the possibilities for success will remain low.

  3. The Importance of Mentorship: It seemed that an involved mentor helped shape the lives of most of the graduados. Whether it was a college prep counselor, a pastor, or an after school program, having a trusted source from which to draw strength and support gave new hope to complete school. In a powerful scene from Part One of Los Graduados, one student describes her love of being a peer mediator and the satisfaction she receives from helping her fellow students. It is important that we as parents, teachers, and community stakeholders such as local business leaders make time to be mentors and role models, as well as providing opportunities for students to mentor their peers as well.

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A row of students at their gradation ceremony. Courtesy: PBS

For me,  The Graduates/Los Graduados, which follows three girls and three boys, is a look inside the lives of a group of students I don’t often hear from directly. While the Latino students faced trials familiar to most high school students, other experiences, for example preparing for college while homeless or as an undocumented student, were fresh perspectives on what it is truly like to grow up in a changing America.

As a country we must put our belief that all kids should have access to a good education into action. That will require us to act to better prepare students and remove barriers that hinder their success in school and later in life. More Latinos graduating means a more prosperous future for them and our country.

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An education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.

Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

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