How would you feel if you moved to a place where you didn’t understand the language being spoken around you? Or where you weren’t familiar with the culture? And even everyday systems such as education were completely different? These are all very real and important questions that impact Hoosier immigrants and their families every day.
Located in southeastern Indiana, the town of Columbus (Bartholomew County), like many Hoosier communities, has seen a large increase in their immigrant population in recent years. Of this increase, Hispanic and Latino families make up the fastest-growing group. To effectively support this community, local leaders have collaborated and leveraged resources to institute culturally relevant programming through multiple resources and supports.
Family School Partners (FSP) is the umbrella organization, which provides teachers to go into the homes of children, ages 2 to 5, to work with the child and family members, with the goal of readying the child for entrance into kindergarten. Family School Partners, a major partner to all Latino education initiatives, took on the following responsibilities to provide better outreach and supports for Latino families in Bartholomew County:
- Oversee the Latino Family Connection pilot
- Train “Vecinas de enlace” (neighborhood liaisons), who work with families in the neighborhoods
- Organize educational workshops for Latino families
- Develop communication and support systems with the Vecina de enlace
This program has provided supplemental capacity for the Latino community so that more families can be served through the FSP umbrella program. Each Vecina de enlace works with four to six families, and they have been critical in developing strong relationships with parents and family members. This has led to increased trust between parents, the schools, and the community.
We currently have seven Vecinas working in eight locations within Bartholomew County. These locations are Driftside Manufacturing Homes, Heritage Heights, Candlelight, Homestead, Garden City, Downtown, Southside, and Woodlawn on US 31.
The Latino Family Coordinator started the Vecina de Enlace program eight years ago. With the expansion of this program and new collaborative partners, she has been able to provide additional support, weekly meetings, and scheduled training sessions for the Vecinas. This has allowed the Vecinas to learn more about the community resources available as well as additional educational options for families. Overall, the Latino student population has grown 276% between 2006 to 2018.
Educational Attainment 25 years & over, Hispanic/Latino Bartholomew County
Once the Vecinas began to work with the community, they soon understood that there were educational barriers for Latino adults as well. One frequent roadblock is language; we know is critical for our adults to learn English prior to taking the next step in their educational journey. It is for this reason that the Vecinas developed interactive English classes in their own community, connecting 70 families that needed English classes. The Vecinas referred 15 adults to postsecondary opportunities and 5 adults to career advancement training as well.
The Vecina serving the Driftside neighborhood was able to continue homework help once a week for children in kindergarten to 6th grade where 32 children participated each week and 12 volunteers provided mentoring services. The volunteers included teens, neighborhood adults, local library program directors, the local school principal, assistant principal, teachers, a Sheriff’s Deputy, and other local agency workers. This Vecina also was able to connect with the local education center to start English classes on site for families without transportation, which has supported 37 total adults during morning and afternoon classes.
Recently, the Vecinas became important community links for information made available through Padres Estrellas, an initiative designed to increase 21st Century Scholars program enrollment and generate interest in the Next Level Jobs Workforce Ready Grant. Because of the immense trust they have developed with the communities they serve; they are effective advocates of these important programs to boost higher education access and attainment for Bartholomew County’s Hispanic and Latino population.
About the Contributors
Luz Elena Michel is the Latino Education Outreach and Program Manager with the Community Education Coalition.
Mayita Rising is a program coordinator with Family School Partners, a Vencina de enlace and a Padres Estrella.