“I have some additional duties and that’s kind of exciting,” said Luna in a teacher workroom at Bowsher High School. “Going into the (school) buildings is really exciting because there have been some changes—and I think changes for the good. I think it gives us a really strong baseball bat to swing educationally.”
Many of the changes Luna talks about come directly from the TPS transformation plan. The key word for Latino students, as a result, is opportunity. For example, the Early High School Opportunity (ESHO) program will allow seventh and eighth-grade students to take high school courses as part of their academic day.
“They’ll bus them to the high schools in their area and the kids will be able to take math, science, language in that time,” Luna explained. “Once they take their classes, we’ll bus them back to their home school. Once they come to high school, they’ll have up to four or five high school classes to their credit.”
Distance-learning labs also are being offered this year at the high school level. Students can take course offerings with little demand, taught by an educator at another high school. Students will be able to interact with that teacher through an Internet connection, “smart boards” and large-screen TVs.
“For instance, there will be a teacher at Bowsher teaching advanced-placement American history where the class will be broadcast to the other high schools,” said Luna. “The students will be in their learning labs, able to give feedback and responses by hitting a button, which will send their response or questions back to the teacher in the original classroom. The teacher will send tests or websites for them to work at.”
In this instance, technology is bridging a budget gap to allow TPS to continue offering special courses so students can keep pace with their counterparts in other districts. Chinese and Russian will be offered through distance-learning labs.
“Where you may have had just one or two students at a school that wanted AP American History and it was just not financially feasible, you can offer it to all the kids,” he explained. “You may have those one or two, another seven at Rogers, ten at Waite, and then it becomes financially feasible to have that class.”
K-8 schools now are the norm at TPS, which Luna described as “the old school way of doing it.”
Open houses at each of those schools are scheduled Sept. 8, 5:30-7 p.m. so parents can go and tour the school and meet their child’s teachers.
Educators and Community Helping Hispanics Onward (ECHHO), a group of college recruiters, will host a College Fair on Sept. 20, 2011. TPS Latino students will ride buses to Owens Community College from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. where they will listen to presenters and play games, all geared toward preparing them for college.
That event will be followed by the annual TPS-Lourdes University Career Day Oct. 5. Students will attend presentations by Latino adults from the professional world covering a variety of career options.
OSU’s motivational event geared toward the male student
The Hispanic Scholarship Fund at the Ohio State University is hosting a motivational event geared toward male Latino students on Sept. 17. The high number of Latino males not reaching graduation is the reason for this event. The HSF is funding a bus to and from Toledo to take students to the event in Columbus. Similar efforts are underway in other Ohio major cities. Motivational speakers will address them on college, how to get to college, and what the students need to do to prepare themselves for higher education. Parents also are invited to the event and will include bilingual services.
“The whole movement is to try to get everyone on page as to what they need to do to become successful,” said Luna. “It’s going to be a pretty exciting semester.”
Luna stated he feels “re-energized” for the new academic year in light of all the changes. But it was an event last spring that provide renewed affirmation that what he does makes a difference in the lives of young Latino students.
“I’ve got the energy of the new school year, a lot of new programs, and the backing all the way from the superintendent, which makes me feel real strong,” he said. “Sometimes you feel like you’re just spinning your wheels and wondering whether you’re doing anything.”
When his job was on the line with severe budget cuts on the horizon, 145 Latino community members showed up at a school board meeting. The group included students and parents that Luna had helped in the past, both English and non-English speaking families. Luna admitted he “was humbled” by the outpouring of support.
“That was scary,” he recalled. “TPS found a way that allowed me to continue doing my job and, in fact, they moved me back up under an assistant superintendent to make sure I could have the right resources. I met with Superintendent Dr. Pecko just last week to talk about some other things I’m going to do for the system, so that’s exciting.”
Luna feels that Latino students are making progress at TPS, even though it’s been about a decade since the last survey to measure the drop-out rate in the district.
The TPS Hispanic outreach coordinator cites the Blue-Gold scholarship program at the University of Toledo and a similar effort at Owens Community College geared toward urban high school students as a major reason. Both offer free tuition to Latino students who qualify academically and financially.
“No longer do we have the excuse that we can’t go because we don’t have money,” Luna noted. “I think that that has a made a difference. I think that has done a lot to get kids on page and motivated.”
Luna also cited the Gear-Up program run by Bowling Green State University and Lourdes University, which brings counselors into the school system to work with Latino students. Luna himself counsels high school students one-on-one to ensure they’re on track for college.
“I think we’re making some progress,” he said. “I really do.”
Luna started as an educator in his mid-30s, so after two decades with the district, he believes he still has about a decade left with TPS “if they keep me.”
“When I’m 67, I guess I’ll just close my briefcase and walk away,” he said with a grin.
But the next decade will be met with a renewed sense of purpose and vigor. This time, the TPS Cabinet is staffed with younger educators who have convinced the board of education to make data-driven decisions. Each student’s progress will be tracked at each school, with academic programs tailored and expanded accordingly. That will mean Luna will know what programs are working or not working in the lives of Latino students.
But one thing will not change: what a lesson from his mother that Luna carries into each school each day.
“God’s people are the poor people. Your mission in this world is to help them,” said Luna. “I feel like this was a gift from God.”
Now Luna believes he has become re-energized to offer those new opportunities to young Latino students and help them succeed—not just in the classroom, but in life.
“It’s wide open. It’s wide open for these kids,” he said with a wide smile. “My message to these Latino kids is ‘You get what you put into it.’ You need to graduate with a minimum 3.0 grade point average to get anywhere. I say excuses, everybody’s got them. Don’t give me that. Don’t tell me what you can’t do, tell me what you can do. So opportunities depend on kids and their parents and I try to keep pushing that grade 7 all the way to 12.”