Group helps Latino students connect
LAKE GENEVA When she was in high school, Liliana Lozano longed for a mentor—someone who looked like her, talked like her and dreamed like her to show her that she could achieve her goals.
“I had a hard time figuring out where I belonged,” she said.
Now that she is in college, Lozano is a founding member of Pacto, a new group for Latino students at Badger High School. It’s a family of young people who encourage one another to dream big and support one another along the way.
“I can stand up here and say, ‘I’m doing it. You can, too,’” she said.
Pacto, which formed at the start of the school year, aims not only to increase high-school graduation rates among Latino students but also to prepare them for college or work or other opportunities they might pursue after high school.
Members sign a pact that pledges they will be active in the group and also will maintain good grades and good attendance and perform community service. Members also promise to set an example for others.
Nancy Salazar, a Spanish teacher and adviser to the group, said graduation rates among Latino students at Badger (about 80 percent) are better than the rates among Latino students nationally (about 50 to 60 percent), but they could improve.
“We have to give them even more support,” she said. “Latino students need more positive reinforcement, more positive encouragement and to know the concrete steps they need to take to get from where they are now to where they want to be.”
Latino families sometimes have trouble getting access to important information because they might not speak English well or they might not know whom they can trust, Salazar said.
Pacto provides members with information to help them navigate the complicated college-application process, including sensitive subjects such as immigration status. The group also works to get students and their parents connected to resources at the school and in the community that can help them.
Lozano, who graduated from Badger in 2008 and now is a sophomore at UW-Parkside, said community service and social activities are important for Latino students to get the most out of their high school experiences.
“It helps them be more a part of the school and the community,” she said.
Pacto members volunteer weekly at two local elementary schools helping students with their homework and at a local nursing home socializing with elderly residents. They also get together regularly to go bowling, eat pizza or just hang out.
Dulce Cosme, another founding member of the group, is giving back by sharing her experiences with others.
“They know that they can count on us, that they can ask us anything about school or about their personal lives,” she said. “We’ve been there. We’ve had that experience. And we know that having good friends really helps.”
Salazar said Pacto provides Latino students a positive alternative to negative activities such as gang violence because the group gives them a sense of belonging.
“It’s a lot easier sometimes to find that negative influence because they’re looking to recruit you into their group,” she said. “It’s much harder to find that positive influence. They need examples. They need to see people like this. They need to be able to know how to get there.
“We’re trying to help kids make those good choices that will take them down that positive path that will lead them to good things.”
Cosme, who graduated from Badger in 2007 and now is a sophomore at Gateway Technical College, said positive role models are key not only to the success of members but also to the group’s sustainability.
“The formula is working,” she said. “They know that their dreams are possible, and they pass that on to the rest of the group and to others outside of the group.”
Lisvet Villanueva, a senior and the first person in her family to go to college, said she hopes she is making the Pacto leaders proud.
“I admire (the leaders). They have jobs. They go to school. They have a lot of things to do—and on top of it, they (lead the group). I don’t want to waste their time,” she said.