HICKORY – This semester, the 4-H Juntos program at St. Stephens High School has been all about building bridges
From building bridges between Hispanic families and the school, to building bridges between Hispanic students and their future, the six-week journey focused on empowering the students with the knowledge and skills needed to reach graduation and pursue higher education.
In addition to the Family Night weekly series, the 29 participating students were involved in academic success coaching; the Juntos 4-H club at the school focused on college readiness and leadership, and they participated in college activities at North Carolina State University.
St. Stephens High junior Apollo Arranaga appreciated all the information on preparing for college the program offered at the weekly family meetings. He especially liked sharing those moments with his mom.
“Since it’s more for the Hispanic community, not a lot of the kids’ parents know about how school works, how their grades work, who their teachers are,” Arranaga said. “This comes in handy helping teach parents more about these things.”
Holly Ellwanger was the Juntos coordinator at the school, where she is also a part-time English as a second language teacher. She’s seen the impact the program and the associated club had on students.
“They’re being proactive in reaching their goals in education. At one of our Juntos 4-H meetings we had Kim Teague, coordinator of the apprenticeship program for the school system, make a presentation,” Ellwanger said. “We had numerous students apply for internships through that program because they saw the value of it.”
She’s seen the workshops help the parents feel more welcomed in the schools and more empowered to help their children. Topics included: making education a family goal, family and school communication, requirements for graduation, how to finance higher education, applying for college and creating a plan of action.
“I think it’s a safe haven. Sometimes a minority family may not want to come to a school event because there’s not somebody translating or they don’t feel welcomed,” St. Stephens High Assistant Principal Heather Hollifield said.
“I think it’s like a bridge for us, and we welcome anyone.”
Hollifield said she noticed grades have improved and attendance is better. She hopes the program will return next year.
The school has a large minority population, 20 percent who are not native speakers, and most of them are Spanish speaking. Last year, the Hispanic population at the school had the lowest graduation rate at 79.1 percent. The overall school average was 85.5 percent.
“Twenty years ago when I came here, ESL was one teacher and two kids and they were Asian American,” Hollifield said. “The Hispanic population wasn’t here, but as the demographics have changed, I think we have to change. You’ve got to be welcoming and welcome those parents who don’t speak English.”
The highlight for Arranaga and his mother was learning about other pathways to an education.
“There are internships, apprenticeships you can use to build up your transcript to help you get into a better university,” he said.
His mother, Teresa Loza, enjoyed being part of that conversation with her son because of the Juntos meetings.
“I like this program because of all this information they provide. Before this, you might not think you could tell your children they could go to university if it was too expensive,” Loza said.
“But here you learn about different scholarships and other programs and how to fill out the paperwork that could help your son or daughter go to college.”
Arranaga feels more confident he knows what questions to ask and who to address them to as he prepares for a career as an electronic engineer.
“When I was a freshman and sophomore, I didn’t know what kind of classes I should take in high school to prepare me, and again, I didn’t know about the different internships and apprenticeships I could join,” he said. “I got this now. I just need to work for it.”
During the last Family Night for Juntos at St. Stephens, Wayne Huddleston and Robin Nicholson presented a check for $4,000 from Duke Energy to support the Catawba County 4-H and all the programs it sponsors
“The beauty of 4-H is that it is very adaptable to whatever the needs of a county are, and I see that from county to county,” Nicholson said, who is the Duke Energy government and community relations district manager.
For more information about Catawba County 4-H, email Donna Mull at email@example.com or call 828-465-8240.
The program wrapped up last week with its final Family Night series and was sponsored and paid for by a grant Catawba County 4-H extension agent Donna Mull was able to receive.