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CHCI's New York Education Forum Convenes Change Makers

Education:  The New Civil Rights Movement for Latinos

On January 30, CHCI hosted its first education policy forum of 2012 at NBCUniversal in New York City.  The event—Keeping the Promise:  Partnerships for Latino Education Success—brought together more than 150 stakeholders, who included educators, students, elected officials, municipal personnel, corporate and nonprofit leaders, celebrities, and media.

To initiate the dynamic dialogue, CHCI assembled three outstanding panels of powerful Latino leaders and students who discussed the growing crisis in Latino education, examined the significant negative effects that deficit has on future workforce needs, and suggested innovative solutions to create immediate change.  

Special guests included José Díaz-Balart, Telemundo news anchor, Rep. José Serrano (NY-16), and Natalie Morales, news anchor on NBC’s TODAY, who moderated the sessions, and Rep. Pedro Pierluisi (PR-At Large) who provided critical input during his panel. 

The powerful day opened with remarks from CHCI President & CEO Esther Aguilera who warmly welcomed attendees and thanked the generous sponsors who made the event possible—The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Excelencia in Education, NALEO, and especially Comcast/NBCUniversal/Telemundo for use of the venue and hosting the “Continuing the Conversation” reception.

Below is a recap of each panel.

Keeping The Promise: Educating Our Future Workforce And Growing Consumer Base


  • Rep. Pedro Pierluisi (PR-At Large)
  • Pedro Noguera, Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University & Executive Director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education
  • Sarita Brown, President, Excelencia in Education
  • Antonio Perez, President, Borough of Manhattan Community College
  • Lissette Nieves, Commissioner, White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics
  • MODERATOR:  José Díaz Balart, Telemundo

In his opening remarks, José Díaz Balart set the stage for the ensuing conversation by noting that education is a key to future economic U.S. competitiveness.  This fact is especially important for young Latinos who, by 2025, will be one of every two entrants into the workforce.  Balart then noted that 80 percent of new jobs will require advanced training or college education, so it is imperative to educate the future workforce.

To open the discussion, it was asked why the education crisis is so dire for young Latinos.  Pedro Noguera noted that often a vicious cycle occurs that is difficult to break.  Latinos are in the lowest income bracket, so students drop out of school to work and help support the family, but the key to breaking the cycle of poverty is higher paying jobs which can only be attained through education.  Rep. Pedro Pierluisi cited language barriers as another crisis factor.  He and other panelists agreed that continued support for dual language programs was needed in schools and that assistance for teachers to overcome language barriers with students, perhaps through a teacher exchange program, would help reduce the learning deficiencies that arise.  Lastly, Sarita Brown stated, educators and other stakeholders must find ways to keep young Latinos motivated to finish school, and then pursue a community or four-year college.

To address the crisis, several innovative solutions were put forward by panelists.  Antonio Perez  suggested that, since Latinos have closed the gap with regard to technology, one proposed solution is to incorporate more interactive learning—through social media and gaming—to help correct deficiencies in core educational studies.  Incentives could also be offered to help ease the financial burden of advanced education.  Panelists agreed that seeking out new technologies to assist students is worthy of further exploration.  Also, Lissette Nieves emphasized that capitalizing on the Latino community’s strengths, such as work ethic, family support, can help.  She remarked, “The Latino population is a not a ‘9 to 5’ population,” so educational institutions need to innovate and accommodate diverse learning schedules.  In doing that, the "whole Latino student" will be recognized and better prepared for the workforce. 

Rep. Pierluisi brought up another critical part of the solution—the financial aspect.  He stressed the importance of protecting Pell grants and low interest rates for education loans.  Other panelists agreed and also mentioned that controlling tuition expenses and offering counseling and guidance for financial aid were needed as well.  Students and their parents must understand how to apply for financial aid and understand the options.  It was also noted that Latinos often shy away from loans in order to stay debt-free; however, Latinos need to adjust their thinking on this issue to see post-secondary education as an investment in the future and worth applying for loans.

When asked what the single most important success factor was for change, each panelist offered a unique answer, that combined, offer real hope for change.  Pedro Noguera remarked that parents must be involved in their child’s education; Antonio Perez stated that kids are learning a different way and we must adapt and use technology to bridge education gaps; Sarita Brown suggested that better leveraging connections to forge strong partnerships will help change the future; Rep. Pierluisi cited the need for continuity and longevity on this issue; and Lissette Nieves agreed, further stating that we must create a means to stay in national education dialogue to keep issue on forefront through more alliances.

In closing, panelists agreed that public education must be embraced and set as a national priority. It is the key to not only the Latino community’s future, but also America’s future, because the growth of Latino community IS the growth of America.  Panelists also indicated that support of organizations like CHCI are essential to the future educational success of Latino youth. 

Young Latino Perspective – In Their Own Voices

The second panel assembled a group of dynamic and motivated high school and college students who discussed the obstacles and personal challenges they have experienced in pursuing their academic goals.  The young Latino panelists represented the spectrum of youth that CHCI assists: high school, college, and young professionals, and like many of CHCI’s program applicants, these students are the first in their families to pursue higher education.


  • High School Perspective:  Kathya Marte & Julian Rodriguez, Bronx, New York, CHCI High School Latino Leaders in D.C.
  • Current College Student Perspective:  Mariella Paulino, Bronx, New York, NYU, CHCI Intern Alumni
  • Current College Perspective and Scholarship Recipients:  Eddie A. Bernard, New York, New York, Brooklyn College/NYU, CHCI-Telemundo Scholar 2010 & Anival Gonzalez, Bronx, New York, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CHCI-Telemundo 2011 Scholar
  • Recent College Graduate:  Jenny Alcaide, Jackson Heights, New York, 2009-10 CHCI Public Policy Fellow
  • MODERATOR:  Rep. José Serrano (NY-16)

Led by Rep. José Serrano, these bright, young individuals shared their personal journeys on the road to achieving a college degree.  All of them faced obstacles along the way which ranged from peer pressure to abandon their education efforts to challenges with parents’ undocumented status on financial aid forms to the pressures of balancing school and work.

Despite the obstacles faced, these optimistic students cited family support, and the support from teachers, librarians, counselors, and even friends as the foundation for their success.  It was noted that having a support system both inside and outside of school is an important factor in Completing their education.

And similar to the first panel, these students suggested that technology-based options for learning would assist in higher academic achievement.  One panelist also noted that a re-examination of standardized testing might help diverse learners perform better.

At the end of this moving panel, Rep. Serrano summed it up well when he remarked, “These young people on our stage truly demonstrate that there is hope for the future.” To them he stated, “YOU are the example for future Latinos and I am proud to have spent some time with you today.”

Check out CNN en Español's coverage of the young Latino panel

Keeping The Promise: The Agenda-setting Function For Multimedia & Entertainment Platforms In Latino Education Success


  • Print Perspective:  Monique Manso, Publisher, PEOPLE En Español
  • Social Media Perspective:  Miguel Ferrer, Managing Editor of AOL Latino & HuffPost LatinoVoices
  • Entertainment Perspective:  Frankie Negron, International Recording Artist
  • Television Perspective:  Tony Plana, Actor and Director
  • MODERATOR:  Natalie Morales, NBC's TODAY

Natalie Morales introduced this session by noting that mass media is a significant force in modern American culture.  It not only amplifies messages, but can also amplify solutions through its various broadcast methods.  Research shows a lack of Latino role models depicted across media, which in turn, compromises and reinforces unflattering stereotypes that can stifle young Latinos’ aspirations of what they can achieve. But, Morales emphasized, that fact can change and this session convenes the leaders who have begun to make that societal change.

To open the discussion, panelists indicated how their particular medium can help combat the negative images and stories that permeate the media.  Monique Manso noted how the role of print media was huge, and can inspire millions of Latinos to succeed by casting a positive light on Latino community.  This is especially true when influencing Latinas, Manso said.  For example, in the 1980s, only 4 percent of Latinas graduated college.  Today, that number is 14 percent, which has resulted in Latinas noticeably shaping the labor force.

Miguel Ferrer echoed Manso’s remarks and indicated that media should focus more on positive stories, a critical aspect to changing futures.  It’s important to counterbalance articles about challenges with articles about successes; to talk about solutions as well as obstacles.  Ferrer also noted that online media has the added ability to share success stories in real time.  Frankie Negron added that, with the expansion of social media, there are even more opportunities to spread positive messages.  Social media should be used to educate and inspire people, not just shock them. 

From the television and film perspective, Tony Plana noted that actors rarely get to play a role that represents same educational level that they are.  Many actors have college degrees and are classically trained, yet they often have to play stereotypes, which creates a huge disconnect.  That disconnect affects how people perceive Latinos and how Latinos perceive themselves, but offers an opportunity for positive change.

Panelists then discussed the way that media can shape education.  Negron boldly stated, “Education is the new civil rights movement for Latinos”—a remark that was received by an inspiring round of applause.  He expanded by saying it was important to have news, articles, and features that provide positive messages with education at center.  The Latino community needs a powerful, loud voice to act as a catalyst for education change. 

As the discussion about education continued, three distinct themes emerged.  The first theme echoed comments made in the first panel with regard to adjusting the learning environment to accommodate diverse learners and not assuming that the current system meets every student’s needs.  Next, Plana emphasized that it is imperative to keep the arts in education.  Art has to be integrated into the education process at an early age to stem effective learning, which ultimately helps with overall performance and testing.  Finally, Manso and Negron agreed that students, their families, and the community must get involved in education.  Family support is crucial for Latino youth to succeed.  Youth need encouragement and champions to help them achieve their educational goals.

In closing, panelists agreed that the media and entertainment industries play a critical role in breaking down stereotypes.  They have a responsibility to elevate and empower our growing Latino youth and positively influence Latino education attainment.  Media outlets should be held accountable for promoting Latino education success across all levels, industries, and professions, providing role models that young Latinos can look up to empower them and feed their aspirations. Miguel Ferrer summed it up well by stating, “Education is important foundation for future economic success.  We're too big [a group] to fail.”

After the lively and thought-provoking sessions, the day ended with a networking luncheon, sponsored exclusively by Comcast/NBCUniversal/Telemundo, which allowed attendees to get to know the panelists and extend the important dialogue begun during the morning's panels.

Innovative ideas and thoughtful examination of the Latino education crisis were the keystones of CHCI’s education forum.  CHCI thanks all of its panelists for their time and expertise as well as the attendees who supported this outstanding event.  The next education forum will be held in San Antonio in March.  Check the CHCI website for future details.

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