Miguel came to the mainland US from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, seeking a better life. He made his way to Boston but found himself struggling with his education. Miguel had been in high school before the storm tore through Puerto Rico, and he needed to find his footing. That’s where Sociedad Latina’s educational success programs came in.
A United Way partner agency, Sociedad Latina works to foster and empower the Boston Latino community through education and strong, supportive programming. Through them, Miguel got in touch with a Puerto Rican mentor, Sam, at Harvard. Sam made sure Miguel stayed in school, helped him look for good post-secondary education, and even went on college visits with him. When Miguel started his college career, Sam stayed in touch, making sure his young charge felt secure in his new situation.
Building Educational Success
Sociedad Latina offers its students ten years of free, high-quality educational programming. Serving young people aged 11-21 and beyond, the agency is always ready and willing to offer important services to struggling and vulnerable youth in Boston’s Latino community. They serve 5,000 such members each year, from children to adults, and have been a part of the community since 1968.
Their mission, according to their Associate Director, Lydia Emmons is simple but bold. “Our goal is to work with youth and families to ensure they find early success in school, are engaged learners, and are involved in the community. Our program even extends into college, and we provide long-term support so our students remain successful after they leave the program.”
To accomplish these goals, Sociedad Latina makes use of four primary pillars: education, civic engagement, workforce development for the 21st century, and arts and culture. They’ve constructed their programs to include everything a student might need to be a well-rounded, prepared member of society. That includes the harder skills like science, math, and engineering, but they also focus on an appreciation for the creative and a dedication to not just going to school but staying there and graduating on time. Soft skills are also emphasized, from building grassroots community engagement initiatives to entrepreneurial training and mentorship and the pursuit of career paths they might not have otherwise considered.
Pushing Students to Do More
A strong support structure and high-quality programming might be a great way to get a young person on a better path, but for students at Sociedad Latina, there’s much more to do. Rather than merely providing them with the means for success, educators push their students to do more, to challenge their assumptions, expectations, and conquer their fears. That means taking risks and going outside their comfort zones. For Lydia, it’s a vital part of Sociedad’s process.
“Facing challenges builds confidence. Our English Language Learners, for instance, need to put themselves into situations when they have to reach farther than is normally comfortable. Stretching your limitations helps develop your ability to persevere in challenging situations, and helps build critical thinking skills, something especially valuable in the summer months when school’s out.”
Being There in Times of Need
Of course, students aren’t left out in the cold when it comes to taking these important risks. Sociedad Latina staff are always available to make sure students are comfortable even as they reach beyond what they’re used to. Staff offer coaching to continue earned progress, and there are regular opening circles where students get together to take note of their progress.
Even when a student is thriving in one or more areas, challenges are bound to arise. For one student, Amalia, it was her writing. Her spoken English was coming along very well, but actually putting it down on paper was proving difficult. Sociedad Latina’s solution would push her in new ways but would still offer that all-important safety net. The agency set up one-on-one sessions and she and the staff worked to develop a plan for her learning. They even went so far as to work on a support structure for her time outside the program. Sociedad’s end goal was to ensure Amalia felt supported at times, and that she didn’t ever feel like giving up in the face of adversity.
Even with all the difficulties their students face, or the challenges put in front of them, Sociedad Latina staff work hard every day of the year to ensure their young people know there’s someone at their back, that they aren’t alone.
From the feedback she’s received, Lydia knows it’s working. “Overwhelmingly, we hear that students feel supported by the staff, that the adults and teachers care about their students, and that they can come to us if they need help with any issue that might come up in their lives.”
Students are also better equipped to handle hardship once they’re out of the program. “Our students reflect on the sense of community they’ve felt as part of the program, and know the high expectations we had for them allow them to do and accomplish things they would never have been able to do before.”