Latino Education Institute

  • About the Latino Education Institute

    The Latino Education Institute of Worcester State University was founded in 2000 by a partnership of community leaders to provide outcomes-based development programs in education, literacy, leadership, civic engagement, and health.

  • 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 like 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.

    2000: 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. WSU provided space and designated specific faculty to work on the project to establish LEI.

    2001: 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 WSU. In July 2001, Senator Birmingham and Senator Chandler strongly back a Senate proposal of $250,000 for LEI.

    • WSU 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.

    2002: 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 WSU 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.

    2003: WSU 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.

    2008: 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 WSU to becoming a hybrid organization with one foot grounded in the community and the other as a full center at WSU.

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

    2010-2011: 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.

    2014: LEI opened an office at Springfield Technical Community College to replicate our model with a partnership with Springfield Public Schools.

    2015: 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.

    2017: 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.

    Strategic Plan

    LEI engaged in a 360 assessment process that was incorporated into a strategic plan. This process helped us understand how we are perceived by our community stakeholders, and identified our unique role and value to our community. It provided an opportunity to clarify our core services for continued focus:

    • Research, policy and best practice models to improve Latino academic achievement and
    • Family engagement to ensure local Latino students have access and support needed to achieve academic success.
    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.

    Honorary Members

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

    Current Members

    • Mr. Barry Maloney, 2012-2018, President, Worcester State University
    • Mr. Eric D. Batista, Co-Chair, 2016-2018, Chief of Operations and Project Management Office of the City Manager Edward M. Augustus, Jr.
    • Ms. Gladys Rodriguez Parker, Co-Chair, 2000-2006 * 2009-2018, Constituent Services Director, Congressman James P. McGovern’s Office
    • Ms. Lucia Alfaro, 2018, College Access Assistant Director, Dynamy Youth Academy, YOU Inc.,
    • Mrs. Pamela Boisvert, 2002-2018, CEO, Massachusetts Education & Career Opportunities, Inc.
    • Dr. Ramon Borges-Mendez, 2012-2018, Associate Professor, Community Development & Planning, Clark University
    • Ms. Nurys Camargo, 2016-2018, Founder, Chica Project, Regional Director, External Affairs, AT&T Services Inc.
    • Dr. Thomas Conroy, 2014-2018, Assistant Professor, Chairperson, Urban Studies, Worcester State University
    • Mr. Juan Gomez, 2009-2018, Executive Director, Centro Las America
    • Dr. Roberta Kyle, 2013-2018, Associate Vice President for Continuing Education & Dean of Graduate Studies, Worcester State University
    • Dr. Esther L. Levine, 2016-2018, Retired Dean, College of the Holy Cross
    • Mr. Miguel Lopez, 2009-2018, Sergeant, Worcester Police Department
    • Carmen J. Melendez-Quintero, 2018, Director of English Learner Programs, Worcester Public Schools
    • Mr. John Monfredo, 2002-2018, Worcester School Committee Member
    • Honorable Timothy Murray, 2014-2018, President and CEO, Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce
    • Mr. Leopoldo Negrón-Cruz, 2005-2018, Program Coordinator, Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center
    • Dr. Luis Pedraja, 2017-2018, President, Quinsigamond Community College
    • Elliot Rivera, 2018, Community Engagement Specialist, Youth Opportunities
    • Dr. Lorna Rivera, 2018, Director, Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy, University of Mass - Boston
    • Honorable Sarai Rivera, 2009-2018, City Councilor, Worcester Fourth District
    • Dr. Marco Rodrigues, 2016-2018, Superintendent, Hudson Public Schools
    • Dr. Bertha Elena Rojas, 2014-2018, Consultant, Humanity Advance
    • Ms. Ana Sequera, 2016-2018, Youth Coordinator, Oak Hill CDC
    • Dr. Lois Wims, 2015-2018, Provost, Worcester State University
    • Mr. Alex Zequeira, 2012-2018, 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