Juntos program looks to college readiness
School engagement series focuses on Spanish-speaking students, parents
Ana Gomez began working with OSU Open Campus’ Juntos program at its inception in 2012. She believed in its purpose: to provide Latino families with resources to support the education goals of their children. It didn’t take long, though, to realize that she and the other coordinators were learning as much — if not more — than the participating families.
Take scheduling. Sessions didn’t work until they were held in the evening around food. Meals are an important cultural component, and communal meals with family or community carry an even bigger significance.
After identifying that barrier, coordinators began to cook for the families, learning what everyone liked to eat and getting to know each other. “We ended up with beautiful sessions,” Gomez says, “eating together with teachers and administrators in the cafeteria or the library like a community.”
It was an auspicious start to a program that quickly grew from its modest beginnings in Madras, when two families completed the program.
Since then, the Juntos program has evolved and expanded to respond to the family and cultural context of Latinos in Oregon, and it now contains four components: college readiness, family nights, Juntos clubs and college visits.
The college readiness element is still at the heart of the program. Schools provide child care, food and facilitators for family workshops, which are delivered in Spanish. Over the course of six weeks, participants learn about preparing students for higher education, from high school graduation requirements and standardized testing to the admissions process and obtaining financial aid.
OSU coordinators and community members plan the family nights, which bring experts in to help families with education-related issues. Legal workshops help participants with Spanish-language documents; career exploration events expose students to employment options.
Participants have established Juntos Clubs at middle and high schools, where they can work on college prep and applications, earn community service hours and socialize with peers. Plans are in the works to replicate these clubs at the college level.
College visits are a popular element of the program, as well. Every other year, OSU hosts a large Juntos college visit, with participant families visiting other colleges every year.
This year, Juntos — the name means “together” in Spanish — is serving 3,400 students and parents in 33 mostly rural communities throughout Oregon. The high school graduation rate for students in the program is close to 100%, and two of the students in the initial class recently graduated from college.
Juntos was launched after coordinators from Oregon State University’s Open Campus program identified a need for Latino families in the Madras area to engage with local schools. A search of available curriculum found a six-week college readiness program from North Carolina. OSU adopted the program in 2012 and adapted it for Oregon communities.
Gomez, who had just moved to Central Oregon from Colombia, began as a volunteer and eventually was hired by OSU. She moved to Corvallis to serve as Juntos’ statewide coordinator before leaving last year for a teaching job.
Parent Maria Molina of McMinnville says she sees her daughter becoming more excited about the idea of going to school, which, in turn, gives her other daughters an incentive to study.
The Juntos program continues to evolve. Program elements for younger members of the family are being developed. With the support of The Ford Family Foundation, a new curriculum specific to Oregon is being created. Another piece in development, Sherman says, is a guided discussion about discrimination and cultural sensitivity training in partnership with the schools.
The slate of activities offers a wealth of information, but coordinators agree that Juntos’ biggest benefit is the increased communication and respect between families and the education system, whether it comes over a plate of food in the school cafeteria or in a workshop on financial aid.
“The families feel more welcome, students feel more listened to, and schools feel like part of the progress. It’s that part — that relationship — that is totally changed by Juntos,” Gomez says.
Evaluation of Juntos points to success
A program evaluation of the Juntos program found that 92% of the students in the program are pursuing higher education.
“Juntos is achieving positive outcomes among participating youth and parents,” the report concludes. “After the six-week workshop series both parents and youth reported more frequent discussions about attending and paying for college.”
As one youth participant shared in the evaluation: “I want to graduate and go to college, but I still need help understanding on how I will get there. Also, I want my parents to learn so they can help my younger brother in the future.”
“It is pretty exciting times,” says Jeff Sherman, the director for OSU Open Campus, the program overseeing Juntos. “It’s unique in Oregon, a lot different than other programs because it is focused on the entire family.”