Latino Education Institute

  • About the Latino Education Institute

    The Latino Education Institute (LEI) at Worcester State University has its roots in The Worcester Working Coalition for Latino Students (WWCLS), which was born in 1999 out of a sense of urgency regarding Latino educational achievement in the city of Worcester. The coalition, a grassroots group representing community and elected leaders, concerned parents, and educators, published a call to action outlining strategies to improve educational outcomes for Latino students.

    The creation of a university-based institute dedicated to illuminating the status of education for Latino students and taking action to improve education outcomes was a core recommended strategy. Through an agreement with Worcester State University in the year 2000, the Latino Education Institute (LEI) was founded with the mission to improve the educational achievement of Latino students from Kindergarten to College.

  • Christian Santana’s Story

    As a 7th grader, new to the community and originally from Puerto Rico, Christian Santana didn’t want to join the LEI’s ENLACE program. “I didn’t speak any English and it was my first year in Worcester.” Ultimately, following the recommendation of his Math teacher, Christian started to regularly attend ENLACE, and he would do so for two years.

    He built meaningful relationships with the program’s facilitators. One facilitator, Eric Batista, played a role in changing Christian’s life. “Even when I would get in trouble out in the community, he would come up to me and talk to me. He’d tell me to be different from the rest.” This relationship impacted Christian significantly and influenced the choices he continued to make for years to come.

    Now a facilitator for ENLACE, Christian hopes to have the same impact on the youth he works with. “Even though you don’t know the students closely, you know everyone has something going on. You need to find a way to connect with the students.” His experiences with the LEI and ENLACE have also changed the way he looks at education as a profession. “I strive to be a teacher and mentor to the students I’ll eventually work with.”

    Christian participated in LEI’s first ENLACE cohort during 2011-2013. Now a Sophomore at Worcester State University, Christian is studying to become an educator with a major in Spanish and a minor in Education. This year, Christian has also come full-circle in his experience with ENLACE. Once a youth participant, he is now a facilitator in the LEI’s latest ENLACE launch at Forest Grove Middle School and helped us launch a program in Southbridge Middle School.


    There are no other similar programs in the Worcester community that address the specific issue of Latino educational achievement, and that this is a serious local issue that needs to be addressed. LEI has tested and perfected innovative programs that we know can decrease the achievement gap. We continue to be engaged in research and policy development needed to improve academic outcomes. We have expanded our model to the City of Springfield. Nevertheless, our work needs to continue as our community continues to experience unacceptable levels of low educational attainment.


    The Latino Education Institute celebrates their 20th Anniversary with #20years,20stories honoring students who have been part of LEI programs. The celebration included a performance by Educator and Poet Javier Avila.


    The Latino Education Institute joins the Department of Public Health and Umass Memorial Health Care with Health Ambassadors who work alongside clinical staff to provide education and outreach to the community on COVID-19.

    The Latino Education Institute accepts a contract to work with the City of Worcester for the Department of Public Health REACH Initiative targeted at the Latino community. The goal of the REACH initiative is to reduce health disparities among racial and ethnic populations with the highest burden of chronic disease through culturally tailored systematic interventions that address community conditions and impact access to care, poor nutrition, and physical inactivity.


    Hilda Ramirez assumes the role of Executive Director of the Latino Education Institute and Mary Jo Marion is promoted to Assistant Vice President of Urban Affairs at Worcester State University.


    LEI was selected to work on the national GradNation campaign, which aims to mobilize Americans to increase the nation’s on-time high school graduation rate to 90 percent by the class of 2020. The campaign mobilized organizations to work together to help young people succeed in school and put them on the path to adult success. LEI used the initiative to highlight the value of culture and language. The Language of Excellence conference was an afternoon of discussion and planning on the importance of valuing and leveraging our cultural and linguistic assets to build America’s next generation of leaders.


    LEI was selected by the L.G. Balfour Foundation and The Boston Foundation to lead a statewide research initiative Pathways to Higher Education. The goal was to establish an understanding of the educational experiences of Latino young men leading up to and during postsecondary education. Project outcomes established an evidence base for future college access programming. The research led to a publication, Higher Education: Opportunities and Outcomes for Latino Young Men in Five Massachusetts Communities.


    LEI opened an office at Springfield Technical Community College to replicate our model with a partnership with Springfield Public Schools.


    LEI and Quinsigammond Community College co-chaired the Commission for Latino Educational Excellence with then-Mayor Joseph C. O’Brien, which gave a sense of urgency to focus on improving education for Latino students by collecting local data, conducting community hearings, utilizing best practice research, and facilitating open, honest dialogue with the administration of the Worcester Public Schools. The commission also identified strategies for improving educational outcomes for Latino students. The result of this commission work was a set of recommendations which were published: A Community Roadmap to Achieving Educational Excellence for Latino Students in Worcester.


    The state Legislature ceased direct funding to institutes housed in public higher education institutions. LEI shifted from a grassroots, nonprofit model with a fiscal partnership with Worcester State to becoming a hybrid organization with one foot grounded in the community and the other as a full center at Worcester State.

    • Mary Jo Marión became executive director of LEI. She continues to guide the organization today with a renewed sense of purpose.


    Worcester State Emerita President Janelle Ashley was joined by Congressman James P. McGovern, Judge Luis Perez, and community and education leaders to announce a $1 million grant award ($1,037,600) from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in support of LEI. President Emeritus Kalyan Gosh supported the writing of the grant during his term as president along with Dr. Del Rio.

    • LEI developed a media public awareness campaign called “EDUCATION is the SALSA of LIFE,” which featured a song by local artist Nardi Vega.


    Dr. Maria Del Rio was hired as executive director of LEI. She received her doctorate from University of Massachusetts Amherst and has been a school psychologist in the Worcester Public Schools since 1998. She also has been a clinician at UMass/Memorial Community Healthlink.

    • The first statewide conference, The Impact of MCAS on Latino Education, at Worcester State in May 2002 enjoyed the participation of approximately 300 individuals. It served as the launching pad for The Family Academy to fortify the skills of the parents involved in the Familias Activas en La Mision del Aprendizaje (FAMA). FAMA is an advocacy group for parents sponsored by LEI. The workshop provided parents with information about guidelines and regulations of the educational system in Massachusetts.


    LEI celebrated a ribbon-cutting ceremony on April 23, 2001, at its new location, the former Alumni House, 135 Glendale Street, off Hunthurst Street, a block from Worcester State's main campus. In July 2001, Senator Birmingham and Senator Chandler strongly back a Senate proposal of $250,000 for LEI.

    • Worcester State Professor of Education Margarita Perez, Ed.D., was appointed as the interim director of LEI. She brought the energy and passion needed to implement the programs to serve the Latino community.


    The creation of a university-based institute dedicated to illuminating the status of education for Latino students and taking action to improve education outcomes was a core recommended strategy of the Worcester Working Coalition for Latino Students. Through an agreement with Worcester State University in 2000, the Latino Education Institute was founded with a mission to improve the educational achievement of Latino students at the K-16 levels. Worcester State provided space and designated specific faculty to work on the project to establish LEI.

    Strategic Plan

    As LEI approaches its 20th anniversary, and in recognition of the role that LEI stakeholders have played as the stewards of the Institute’s mission and work, beginning in the Spring of 2019, LEI engaged in a strategic planning process that would inform LEI’s. Important to note that LEI strategic planning process is also a timely response to important sociocultural and political realities that have impacted LEI’s work. These include the growing Latino population in the city of Worcester and the state of Massachusetts, changes in the political climate at the national, state, and local level, shifts in LEI’s leadership and programmatic structure, and WSU’s strategic planning. As such, this strategic planning process required that LEI openly and rigorously deliberate these contexts and consider paradigm shifts in their thinking and working, knowing that restructuring and changes in the Institute’s activities were likely to occur.

    After a review of these findings, working with initial feedback from the Community Advisory Board, the following three strategic goals have been identified for the future direction of the LEI.

    I. Telling Our Story

    This strategic goal emphasizes on sharing the power and uniqueness of LEI’s model as an Institute of WSU dedicated to serving the Latino Community. The 20th anniversary celebration will be used a a tool to enhance our brand so that community and other stakeholders understanding who we are and our story.

    II. Growth: Expansion & Partnerships

    This strategic goal focuses on LEI’s programmatic strengths. As part of this planning process, LEI recommits to creating a pipeline from K-12 through post-secondary education, to develop an Advocacy, Research, and Civic Engagement Plan in collaboration with WSU and to Create Fee Based Technical Assistance Services in Collaboration with Graduate Division.

    III. Sustainability and Strength

    This strategic goal focuses on strength the capacity of LEI to meet its mission and includes priority areas such as (1) Redefining Community Advisory Board, (2) Expanding Staffing Model; and (3) developing and implementing Five-year fundraising plan

    Board of Advisors

    The mission of the LEI Board of Advisors is to provide advice to the executive director and Worcester State University’s president and provost/vice president for academic affairs on:

    • strategic direction
    • technical expertise
    • support for programs, initiatives, and future fundraising activities

    We also thank the Latino Education Institute board of directors, staff, and volunteers. Their tireless work and donations of time and talent enrich the lives of Worcester’s Latino youth and their families.

    Community Advisory Board

    Honorary Members

    State Senator Michael Moore
    Senator Harriette Chandler
    Congressman James P. McGovern


    Dr. Bertha Elena Rojas, Consultant, Humanity Advanced

    Advisory Board Members

    Mr. Barry Maloney, President, Worcester State University
    Ms. Lucia Alfaro, College Access Assistant Director, Dynamy Youth Academy, YOU Inc.,
    Mr. Eric D. Batista, Chief of Operations and Project Management Office of the City Manager Edward M. Augustus, Jr.
    Dr. Thomas Conroy, Assistant Professor, Chairperson, Urban Studies, Worcester State University
    Mr. Joseph Corazzini, Assistant Superintendent for Equity, Diversity, and Community Engagement, Framingham Public Schools
    Mr. Caleb Encarnacion-Rivera, Dean of Students, Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School
    Mr. Antonio Guijarro-Donadios, Assistant Professor, Worcester State University
    Ms. Carmen J. Melendez-Quintero, Director of English Learner Programs, Worcester Public Schools
    Honorable Timothy Murray, President and CEO, Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce
    Mr. Leopoldo Negrón-Cruz, Program Coordinator, Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center
    Dr. Luis Pedraja, President, Quinsigamond Community College
    Honorable Sarai Rivera, City Councilor, Worcester Fourth District
    Ms. Gladys Rodriguez Parker, Constituent Services Director, Congressman James P. McGovern’s Office
    Ms. Karla Travieso, Springfield Liaison, Worcester State University
    Mr. Jaime F. Vallejos, Assistant Professor, Worcester State University
    Carmen Veloria, Senior Community Impact Officer, Hartford Foundation
    Dr. Lois Wims, Provost, Worcester State University
    Mr. Alex Zequeira, Headmaster, St. John’s High School


    LEI relies on the generous support of funders and sponsors to realize our mission to close the achievement gap. We appreciate the support of our generous funders whose contributions enable us to offer a variety of programs.

    Early Benefactors

    We acknowledge the support and generosity of Lloyd G. Balfour Foundation, City of Worcester, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, George and Sybil H. Fuller Foundation, Greater Worcester Community Foundation, Hiatt Center for Urban Education at Clark University, Hoche-Schofield Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Worcester/Fitchburg Labor Trades Union, Worcester Public Schools, and Worcester State University.

    Current Benefactors

    • Balfour Foundation
    • Boston Foundation
    • Davis Foundation
    • Ellsworth Trust Grant
    • Fallon Clinic Foundation
    • Fred Harris Daniels Foundation
    • Fuller Foundation
    • Greater Worcester Community Foundation
    • GWCF Ruth and John Adam Fund
    • Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts
    • Mass Mutual Foundation
    • Nellie Mae Education Foundation
    • Peoples Bank
    • United Way of Central Massachusetts
    • Webster Five Foundation
    • Women’s Initiative of the United Way of Central Massachusetts
    • Worcester Public Schools
    • Worcester State Foundation