According to the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, Latina high school graduation rates are lower than any other female racial or ethnic group in the U.S.
To increase graduation rates on a local scale, Lambda Theta Nu Sorority Inc. will host their second annual conference for San Francisco middle school girls at USF. The Latina Youth Leadership Conference (LYLC) provides middle school students with the education and tools to succeed in high school and pursue higher education. The conference, set for May 8th, is also a national service that all chapters of Lambda Theta Nu Sorority, Inc. are required to fulfill.
“Essentially we want to give them the leadership skills they need to succeed. We know that middle school is the prime time that Latinas get discouraged and either drop out of school later on or end up pregnant,” President Adriana Ponce-Jimenez said. “We want to show them that, ‘Hey, we were once in your shoes too, and if you believe in yourself and just work hard, good things can happen.’”
The sorority is expecting about 60 to 70 girls, from James Lick Middle School, Everett Middle School, and Martin Luther King of the San Francisco Unified School District. Apart from leadership skills, the conference’s goals are to promote higher education, provide positive role models, and enhance self-esteem and cultural pride.
Last year, the sorority held their first annual conference on May 9th 2009, and hosted about 42 girls. Last year’s president, Leandra Cartagena, said it was a good turnout considering it was their first LYLC. “We didn’t know how the San Francisco schools would respond to our invitations. We hoped for about 80 girls, but in the end some schools pulled out because they were either hesitant or were simply unresponsive.”
Of the 42 students, 70 percent were Latina, 10 percent were African American, and 20 percent were other ethnicities (Asian, Middle Eastern, and Caucasian).
Due to last year’s diverse turnout, the sorority openly welcomes female students of any cultural background that the middle schools are willing to provide. “We don’t want to be exclusive. We want any girl to benefit from this as possible, whether they’re Latina or not,” said Cartagena.
The conference will hold four workshops, highlighting college requirements and financial aid options, the magnitude of getting involved in high school, and the challenges girls face as minorities in a male-dominated society.
Ponce-Jimenez said that last year’s workshops were facilitated by professionals, including USF Dean of Students and Associate Vice President for University Life, Mary Wardell. “This year we’re trying something different by hosting the workshops ourselves, which means we have a lot more responsibility because we’re relying on ourselves to make the workshops successful.”
The sorority will also invite a group of Spanish-speaking only high school students, who were suggested by Gloria Escobar of Everette Middle School. Escobar is the coordinator of an after-school program for recently arrived students from foreign countries. Escobar asked Ponce-Jimenez, who is also the LYLC committee chair for the second time in a row, if there was any way the conference could be offered in Spanish.
“Of course we jumped on that right away. We also want to reach out to those girls, who have more of a challenge coming into a foreign educational system.”
The sorority will host workshops entirely in Spanish at least once during the day, for the Spanish-speaking only group. At main events, such as the morning college panel and the key- note speaker at lunch time, the girls will have a designated translator. “We don’t want to segregate them but we’d rather have them be in their own groups then get lost switching from English to Spanish,” Ponce-Jimenez said.
LYLC is part of the sorority’s national philanthropy called Tijeras (or scissors in English), which is defined as two blades pinned together. The Tijeras project strives to “cut” through barriers that stand in the way of Latino youth and their educational goals.
“We fundraise all year for this, including our annual benefit dinner that we recently had in March,” Ponce-Jimenez said. “This event would never happen without the generous contributions that people make. It’s heavily dependent on donations, and we thank them not for us, but for the girls that they are directly impacting.”
To make a donation for LYLC, contact Adriana Ponce-Jimenez at AmorouZAZ@yahoogroups.com