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Latino leaders: More translators, Latino educators needed in Prince George's schools


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Photo by Alexis A. Goring. “The reason why we’re here today is simply because out of the 14 members on the Board of Education, not one is a Latino and that is not acceptable,” says Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk at a press conference Friday at CASA de Maryland in Langley Park.

Photo by Alexis A. Goring. “The reason why we’re here today is simply because out of the 14 members on the Board of Education, not one is a Latino and that is not acceptable,” says Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk at a press conference Friday at CASA de Maryland in Langley Park.

Published on: Monday, June 24, 2013

By Alexis A. Goring

Latino leaders Friday at CASA de Maryland in Langley Park challenged the lack of Latino representation in Prince George’s County’s public schools.

“The reason why we’re here today is simply because out of the 14 members on the Board of Education, not one is a Latino and that is not acceptable,” Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk said.

The press conference covered the challenges and crises the Latino community is facing in Prince George’s County.

Almost 23 percent of Prince George’s County Public Schools students are Latino. The county has 204 schools in the system, but only one with a Latino principal. And, as of 2012, only 2 percent of the school system’s 9,000 teachers were Latino, according to CASA de Maryland. 

Pena-Melnyk said several times that Latinos are “an afterthought” in Prince George’s County schools.

“We want to be able to be counted and included, and that’s all we’re asking for. … We’re just very disappointed that out of 14 members (of the Board of Education) — come on, we’re not being unreasonable — not even one (is Latino).

“That is not right, and it’s not just being able to speak the language — it’s also knowing the culture, knowing where you’re coming from and it makes a big difference for our kids to see role models like them,” she said.

Pena-Melnyk mentioned her own experience in New York City where “a lot” of her teachers were Latinos.

“I’m not saying that teachers should just be Latinos,” she added. “I’m just asking for diversity and representation, especially when the numbers are there — and we have the numbers.”

Pena-Melnyk and others said they hoped County Executive Rushern Baker and his administration would have considered the county’s growing Latino population when naming the newly appointed Board of Education members.

“I am one of the county executive’s biggest supporters, and I’m a friend,” Pena-Melnyk said. “But, I’m very sad, I’m very disappointed today, especially because I personally asked him to take us into consideration when he was going to make his decisions. …We want to be counted, and we want to be represented. I supported that administration and I expected better from him.”

Jaime Contreras, vice president of Service Employees International Union, has two children in Prince George’s County schools — one attends High Point High School, the other attends Cherokee Lane Elementary. Contreras is involved with the Parent Teacher Organization at the elementary school.

“One of the biggest complaints from the parents in the school is when they get there, there is rarely somebody that can help them in their language talk to the principal or how to set up a meeting, a conference with the teacher and sometimes they can’t even go talk to the teacher because they don’t speak their language,” he said. “So they use their kids to help us translate, but the kid is not a professional translator or interpreter and it’s tough.”

Contreras said there is one reason behind the lack of Latino representation in the schools: the budget.

Maria, a stay-at-home mom, attended the press conference with her children. She was invited because she’s a volunteer for Promise Neighborhoods, a CASA de Maryland program to improve education in Langley Park.

“I’m really happy that people are fighting for the children and looking for representation for us (Latino parents) so we can find help at the schools for our children,” she said.

State Sen. Victor Ramirez said disparities need to be addressed and it is work that cannot be done overnight.

“We have a high truancy rate. We have a high drop-out rate,” he said. “There’s something there, whether it’s we need more high school counselors, we need more social workers, whatever we need, I think it’s a good opportunity to look into those issues and it could include all of Prince George’s County.”

In Contreras’s view, this crisis is bigger than the county — it’s on a national level.

“It’s a huge problem and it’s not just in Prince George’s County,” he said. “It’s a much bigger issue at all levels of government, at all levels of our institutions, at the local level, federal and state level, and we just need to address that.”

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