Latinos in Action helps Hispanic students achieve

By Erin Murray, Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, April 13, 2017, 10:34 PM EDT

Sitting around a table, a group of Timber Creek High School students look back and reflect on the past year.  

  • Timber Creek High School program helps Hispanic students
  • Latinos in Action program promotes leadership and academics

“I think we could, like, structure it better,” said a student talking about a past event.  

These students are all part of the Latinos in Action (LIA) program. This program and a few others since 2013 were formed under Orange County Public Schools Minority Achievement Office for a specific reason.

“We have a gap in OCPS with where, when it comes to proficiency, our white students are performing at a 75 percent rate, but our minority students, our Hispanic students are 20 percent lower. So we need to make sure that gap is closed,” said Dr. James Lawson, Minority Achievement Officer for OCPS.

The students work on academics, community service and leadership.

And in just one year, their supervising teacher sees a change.

“They were very shy, and they miss their country. And then when they find out it is the same here, they blossom and they participate in other activities. For me it’s so rewarding, my kids, I love them,” said Marina Martinez, Timber Creek High School teacher and LIA supervisor.

The trust is certainly clear between the students. They even call themselves a family.

“In Puerto Rico, I wasn’t that studyish, and when I came here, I met people, Latinos, and they were very like, good grades and that stuff. They helped me have good grades and pay more attention in the classrooms,” said Brielyd Curbelo, 11th Grade.

The group also works to break down stereotypes.

“Like other people have expectation of the Latino people, like ‘party people’ and really loud, and even though we are, we are also leaders,” said Coral Cotto, 10th Grade. “It helped me with choosing my career. I want to be a physical therapist.”

Many students in LIA migrated to the U.S. from other countries.

“When I first got into the United States, I was like, ‘Oh my god, I don’t know anyone here. What am I going to do? I am going to be the weird, new girl in the school.’ But with that class (LIA), I am not,” said Cotto.

For others who have been in the U.S. longer, LIA helps them reconnect to their culture.

“I came here when I was seven years old, I didn’t really know my own culture or Spanish. I forgot all about Spanish, I forgot about my own culture, until I joined this class,” said Wilfredo Aponte, 12th Grade.

OCPS is so happy with the measured success that they are expanding the program. Currently LIA is only at two middle and two high schools. Next year, they are adding LIA to 10 additional schools.