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Encuentros Leadership

Lessons provide inspiration, history for Latino boys

An expanding partnership between Vista Unified and a local nonprofit group has created classes and clubs that help Latino boys connect with curriculum, stay in school and plan for the future.

Encuentros Leadership has worked with the district on the lessons for the last eight years, and offerings are expected to be available at all of Vista Unified’s middle and high schools beginning this fall.

“We want it available for all of our boys at the secondary level,” said Anne Green, coordinator of English language arts for the district’s middle and high schools. “That’s one of my top priorities.”

For the last several years, there has been an elective class at Rancho Buena Vista as well as after-school programs at Madison Middle School, Rancho Minerva Middle School and the Vista Academy of Visual and Performing Arts.

The lessons focus on character-building, history, English and encouraging students to attend college. They’re intended for Latino boys but are open to anyone.

Robert Rivas started the group in 2003 to help address the high number of Latino boys dropping out of high school. Some have estimated the number to be nearly 50 percent.

The efforts have been successful, Rivas said. Over the last three years, boys in the program have scored an average of one grade-point higher than their peers who aren’t in the program, he said. They also have a higher attendance rate and fewer discipline problems, he added.

“This curriculum is making a difference,” he said.

Through the program, students are taught to ask themselves three basic questions: Who am I? Where am I going? How am I going to get there?

Doing that encourages the boys to think critically about what they want to become, Rivas said.

Students are able to connect with the curriculum because they can see themselves and their ancestors in the lessons, Rivas said.

“It connects directly not only to that boy but to his family,” he said.

That’s not always the case, he said, especially in history class, since Latinos weren’t involved in many of the events that make up American history lessons.

“We weren’t part of the American revolution. We didn’t come over the in the Mayflower. We weren’t part of the westward push,” he said. “We were already here. That doesn’t apply to us.”

Educators also try to inspire the students by bringing in successful Latino men as guest speakers.

In addition to the efforts specific to Vista Unified, many students also participate in conferences each fall at Palomar and MiraCosta colleges. Those are intended to help the boys get more comfortable on a college campus and to visualize themselves attending.

“It really gets them inserted right into the college environment,” Green said.