Walk into any school in western North Carolina and you are likely to see one or two Latinx employees in any role. The same goes for schools in any region of North Carolina. In the Triangle area, there are more Latinx educators, but the workforce still does not accurately represent the growing population of Latinx students.
As dual-immersion and dual-language (yes, there is a difference) programs have become more popular, teachers from Latin American countries have come to make North Carolina their home. However, their stay is only temporary. These programs are also primarily housed in elementary schools, so middle and high school students often lack Latinx representation in their schools.
Teacher shortages exist across the state and nation. Diego experiences this as a high school assistant principal with teacher vacancies more than one month into the school year. As current administrators and educators, we must tap into our greatest pipeline of future educators: our students. There should be a great effort to recruit students of color so that future generations will have role models in education, drawing students into the profession.
As we started to think about how a high school assistant principal and a high school social worker could recruit and retain Latinx students to become educators, we were reminded of the great power of storytelling. Making it personal and relevant for Latinx students is, in our opinion, the best way to attract highly-motivated Latinx students to enter the world of education. The following is a condensed version of our stories as Latinx students turned Latinx educators.
Diego Arturo Mureño
Dear Latinx Students:
“Hay que sufrir para merecer” loosely translates to, “Nothing worthwhile is easy.” This is the quote my mother, Martha, uses when I am faced with challenges or issues. The journey to becoming assistant principal at Carrboro High School in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools began more than 30 years ago. At the tender age of 17 and 18, my father and mother immigrated from México to the “Norte.” Since then, they have worked tirelessly to provide for my brother, two sisters, and me. One of the most important lessons they taught us was the value of hard work and education. And thus, my educational story…
North Carolina needs you. I heard this same beckoning call back in 2011. I was set to graduate from McDowell High School in Marion, North Carolina. At the time, there were hardly any resources dedicated to promoting Latinx postsecondary education. I had no real plans for my future. That is until a teacher, Miss Jennifer Sprinkle (Gant), introduced me to the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Scholarship. I applied blindly and was accepted to Lenoir-Rhyne University. Since then, I have been an avid advocate for Latinx students to enter the educational workforce. Kids like me need you.
You see, a four-year college was never in the works for me. No one in my family had ever gone away after graduating high school. I came from a middle class working family. My older siblings continued their education at the local community college and did well for themselves. Yet, I wanted more and I knew it was possible. Like I said before, there were scarce resources for a first-generation Latinx student preparing for a four-year college.
In my daily work, I interact with students that remind me of myself. I see the potential he/she/they have to positively impact the future of North Carolina. Imagine walking into any school and seeing representation, hearing your language, or seeing similar traditions to your own. Latinx students: North Carolina needs you now more than ever. ¡Estamos aquí y aquí nos quedaremos!
Dear Latinx Students:
“The knowledge you receive from education can never be taken away from you” is what my mother would always remind me growing up. My parents left their home in search of the American Dream. They left Mexico to provide a safe environment, education, and economic stability for my siblings and me, something they could not have. When my parents and I arrived in the United States, there were major cultural and economic challenges.
We arrived at a two-bedroom apartment in Carrboro. There were a total of 10 family members living in the apartment. I remember sharing a king-size bed with my parents and brother. My father earned about $280 a week. Eventually, we moved out and obtained our own house, where we are still living thanks to Habitat for Humanity. Despite all the challenges, my family stayed resilient.
I attended K-12 and undergraduate school in North Carolina, and I’m currently in graduate school here. Attending a predominantly white school was challenging because I never felt like I truly belonged. I always felt like I was “too Latina” or not smart enough to take advanced classes. I went to school with students whose parents had college degrees and were economically well-off for the most part.
While I attended a predominantly white school, I lived in a predominantly immigrant and low-income community. While I am not ashamed of where I come from, I knew that my challenges were different from my middle-class peers. When I reached high school, I felt an urge to seek belonging but never quite found it. I sought to be part of Hispanic or Latinx clubs to feel connected to my roots and school. While I was part of diverse clubs, I always felt like I needed someone to relate to. I searched for someone that understood my language, culture, and challenges.
Never in my educational career did I have a teacher, counselor, administrator that looked like me. It was not until I reached college that I found a community that supported me and understood me. In college, I found the support I needed to excel in my academics and found my voice to speak about issues that hurt my community.
I know that obtaining higher education is challenging and does not have to be every student’s goal, but I hope that I can impact students by returning to the high school from which I graduated. As a current social worker at Chapel Hill High School, I hope to support students that feel like they do not belong. I hope to engage Latinx students in the conversation of higher education so they can believe it is reachable for them. I hope to be a resource for Latinx parents.
Most of all, I hope to inspire students to go into professions that lack Latinx representation. I am calling out every Latinx student. You are the future, and you matter. You are smart enough to take advanced classes and strong enough to achieve the goals you set for yourself. You have a community that needs you and your talent. You are enough. ¡Si Se Puede!