Latino Education Institute

  • 20 Years, 20 Stories

    Bridging the Latino Opportunity Gap

    Today we invite you to join us as we launch our 20th anniversary celebration, “20 Years, 20 Stories.” Be a part of celebrating the successes of the 4,577 families we have served during the past two years alone.

    Give Today: Help the LEI Continue its mission

    From our humble beginnings as the Worcester Working Coalition - a small but determined group of Latino community leaders and allies dedicated to promoting educational excellence, The Latino Education Institute of Worcester State University has been unflinching in our mission for the past twenty years to improve the academic achievement and well-being of Latino students (K-16) and their families.

    Although we have many successes to celebrate, the challenges faced by the Latinx population in Worcester have increased. Worcester will not be able to maintain its economic prosperity unless systemic inequities are dismantled for Latinx students. Simply stated, it is untenable and unacceptable for only 22% of Latino males to graduate from college in a state where Latinx students are the largest population in most of the Gateway Cities school systems. At the same time, the LEI is motivated by the wealth of knowledge, language, culture, relationships and experiences within the Latinx community and has always built on these assets as part of the solution to addressing the Latino academic gap. The examples of the stories we chose to highlight in this campaign speak to the level of commitment the Institute has for Worcester’s Latinx population.

    For the past several years we’ve been at the forefront of taking a holistic look at the needs of our students and advocating for a strong equity agenda. We want our students to be college and career ready for the regional, national and global levels. Mobilizing attention and attracting funding to this community is an essential piece of the equation.

    Today, we are asking you to play a critical role in this movement. We speak for every student and family in our programs by saying our work fills a critical need in the lives of youth and families.

    Learn more about the LEI’s role in the lives of our youth and families:

  • Erika Guaman ‘23

    Erika Guaman ‘23Erika Guaman ’23 was still in high school when she took her first college class, an opportunity made possible through the Worcester State-Worcester Public School dual enrollment program. The bright, ambitious teenager loved the academic challenge, but found the biggest adjustment was in the expectations of the faculty.

    “They give you the whole syllabus for the year, and expect you to do the assignments,” she says. “The teachers don’t tell you what to do for homework. You have to be responsible. You have to use your time wisely.”

    Succeeding in those classes gave Guaman confidence that she can handle the demands of a college curriculum when she became an official Worcester State Student last fall. She also participated in the AID (Alternatives for Individual Development) program this past summer, a six-week boot camp of sorts that helps incoming first-generation and underrepresented minorities adjust to college.

    Guaman’s ambitions were nurtured at an early age through several different Latino Education Institute programs. A native of Ecuador whose family moved to Spain when she was two years old, Guaman had no English language skills when she arrived in Worcester in the seventh grade.

    In middle school she participated in My Voice, My Community, which explores what it means to be a Latino youth in Worcester. As a freshman at North High School, she learned how to prepare for college in LIDER (Latinos Involved in Discovering Educational Resources). She advocated for change in schools as a member of the Youth Civics Union. And as a participant in LEI’s Youth Summit, she and a friend offered workshops on academic success strategies to younger kids in middle school. Even her mother improved her English in the adult Club E classes for English language learners.

    She paid that help forward as a volunteer in Teen Circle for middle schoolers, where she acted as a mentor to other Latino youth.

    “They have questions about what it is like in high school. I tell them you have to put in a lot of effort, but if you put in a lot of effort, you’ll get into a good college,” she says. Some girls will ask her advice on a social problem, perhaps with another girl they are having issues with. “I tell them, ignore them and focus on college.”

    Give Today: Help Others Like Erika

    Christian Santana ’21

    Christian Santana ’21When Christian Santana ’21 came to Worcester from Puerto Rico in 2011, he felt lost and out of place. He was new to the community without strong English language skills, searching for friends as he entered seventh grade—a critical time for making wise choices that could have a profound, life-long impact.

    Fortunately, he found ENLACE (Encouraging Latinos to Achieve Excellence). The afterschool program is one of many LEI efforts tailored to support Latino youth in every stage of their educational journey, from elementary school through college.

    The program aims to inspire middle school boys to want to become better students, while giving them life skills needed to make good choices. The program involves field trips to museums, parks, and local college campuses—and for Santana, the trip to Worcester State was impactful.

    “I had never been to a college campus before, and after that visit, I told my parents, I’m going to college,” says Santana, a first generation college student. He is now entering his junior year at Worcester State as a Spanish and education double major with his sights set on becoming a teacher. He is so grateful for the opportunities ENLACE gave him, he is now working as a facilitator in the ENLACE program, inspiring other Worcester Public Schools students to follow his footsteps.

    “I can put myself in their shoes because I’ve been there. I know it’s not easy, and there are many outside influences. They need a role model to show there is a way to success,” he says.

    Give Today: Help Others Like Christian

    Daniel Triana ‘18

    Daniel Triana ‘18Daniel Triana ’18 understands the power of a phone call.

    For his job as a family liaison in the Southbridge Public Schools, he calls parents to check in when their children are absent from school, or to help solve a problem, or invite them to an event explaining resources available to keep their child on the right track. And if a phone call is not enough, he’ll make a visit to their home.

    Often that personal touch, the fact that someone is reaching out to make a connection, makes a difference in securing parents as allies in raising the educational sights of their students.

    “I like working with families and seeing the importance of that phone call and the impact it can make,” says Triana, whose Spanish fluency helps him communicate with families in Southbridge, a city with a 46 percent Latino population. “At this year’s eighth grade graduation ceremony, lots of parents there knew me and that was a good feeling. I always wanted to have a job where I can make an impact, and this is definitely one of those jobs.”

    The son of Mexican immigrants who settled in Westborough, Mass., 15 years ago, Triana understands the stresses encountered by families navigating a new culture, and how one caring person can affect a young person’s direction in life. He credits his high school guidance counselor with filling the gaps in his knowledge as a first-generation college student.

    “I got myself into college because my parents didn’t know about the process. Even then, I felt like I was always a few steps behind. I want to use what I learned to help other students in similar situations,” he says.

    After graduation, the business major continued to work for LEI in a summer program for Worcester youth, and then was one of the first people hired when LEI expanded its services to Southbridge in the fall of 2018. In addition to his role as a family facilitator during the academic year, he now coordinates the summer program in Southbridge, a free camp that provides transportation, food, and activities that are both fun and educational.

    “Now there is something for kids to do, both after school and in the summer, and it’s all free. That’s a big plus for the community,” he says.

    Give Today: Help Others Like Daniel

    Isalby Juveny Martinez

    Isalby Juveny MartinezIsalby Juveny Martinez’s strong advocacy for the Latino Education Institute stems from her personal experiences with many of LEI’s signature programs—as the mother of children in the afterschool programs, as a participant in family outreach efforts to demystify the Worcester Public Schools, and now as a staff member helping with the summer youth program in Southbridge.

    The mother of three settled in Worcester 14 years ago from her native Dominican Republic. Shortly after arriving, her oldest son participated in the ISLA (Innovative Services for Latino Achievers) afterschool program at Chandler Magnet, which provided him with fun activities to improve his English, learn more about the Spanish language, and connect with other Latino students from other schools.

    Now her youngest, 11-year old Ciarra, is enjoying the LASO afterschool program for sixth grade girls at Woodland Street Academy. “That’s a particularly tough age for girls, but the way they learn is fun and she really enjoys that time.”

    She also participated in the WIPLE (Worcester Institute for Parent Leadership in Education) program, a collaboration between LEI and the WPS to help Latino families understand grades, testing, and the public school system in general.

    “When you come here from another country, you think the system is the same, and often it’s not. You don’t have the information you need to help your child navigate the system. WIPLE gives you the tools to have a conversation with a teacher. It helps you to know your rights as a parent so your child will get the best education,” she adds.

    Martinez is now working in Southbridge as an aide to the summer camp facilitator, helping with behavior issues and connecting with students in the Reader’s Theater activities, where students read a culturally appropriate book and then act it out.

    “I am pleased and grateful for the opportunity given to me to enhance my professional skills as a Latina,” she adds.

    Give Today: Help Others Like Isalby