By: ElenaRichardson, Grants Program Manager for The Fund for Santa Barbara
From Casa Magazine published March 20th, 2015.
In California today, one out of every five Latino high school students is dropping out of school. Future Leaders of America (FLA) is working hard to reduce this number and close this achievement gap. Since its inception in 1982, FLA has worked towards providing a pathway to and through college and out of poverty for lower income students.
FLA was founded as a grassroots response to concerns about the high incidence of Latino youth high school dropouts, gang activity, substance abuse, and limited civic engagement. The organization responded to the need for positive Latino role models, a peer support group, greater leadership, educational and additional civic engagement in the Latino community.
Since its inception over thirty years ago, FLA has worked with more than 8,000 Latino youth and their families in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. In 2014, the Fund for Santa Barbara gave a grant to FLA for their leadership development and youth advocacy work.
FLA’s program is brilliantly simple: they take 8th and 9th grade student participants and work with them throughout high school. Students attend a summer leadership camp where they develop skills like public speaking and facilitation, learn about cultural traditions and as a result of this culturally affirming learning process, develop self confidence and voice.
Jose Tolis, a freshman at Dos Pueblos High School, attended camp for the first time last July and plans to go back: “I’ve been the only Latino guy in a lot of groups I’ve been in so I was excited, but nervous. The conference exceeded every expectation I had. It really inspired me to ‘make a mark’.”,says Jose. After attending camp, Jose’s G.P.A. increased from 2.1 to 4.0. “A lot of people told me I changed a lot; I felt more confident”, Jose adds with a chuckle, “and I got way busier!”
FLA uses a peer-to-peer model, so previous graduates come back and lead different parts of the program. “So when Nayra Pacheco comes back from college wearing her UCSB sweatshirt, my daughter thinks ‘I can be her, I can envision college’”, shares Olivia Carranza, the parent of two FLA participants. “I see what FLA is doing”, shares Olivia. “My older daughter didn’t want to attend college and now she’s going to City College and my other daughter is coming out of her shell and developing her confidence. I love it.” Olivia believes FLA’s strength lies in its emphasis on peer-to-peer mentorship.
After the summer camp, FLA works with students throughout the year. The FLA Master Achievement or FLAMA program helps “keep the students’ fire alive”, says Eder Gaona-Macedo, Executive Director. Students meet weekly to work on an issue of their choosing. Last year, students decided to focus on the proposed ‘Gang Injunction’. They invited speakers, attended community walks, and spoke out at community forums. The Santa Barbara Superior Courty has since ruled against the proposed gang injunction. This year, students decided to work on the achievement gap and understand why Latino students are succeeding at lower rates than their peers. They plan to address the achievement gap by advocating for more college-readiness counselors in their schools.
FLA develops the leadership potential in Latino youth. Today, the organization can point to Latino leaders who serve in elected office and the non-profit, governmental, legal and private sectors. Engaging families, creating opportunities for students to participate in policy and advocacy work, and developing students’ self confidence in culturally affirming ways –these are just a few of the markers of success for FLA.
When asked why Jose continues to volunteer his time with FLA, he says “I’m here because this is important to me. I’ve seen what I’ve been able to accomplish because of my experience. This group instilled in me a desire to be the best that I can be and now I need to help do the same for others.” Jose adds, “We can all help each other out.”
For more information, please contact Eder Gaona-Macedo, Executive Director at Future Leaders of America at (805) 642-6208 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can visit their website at www.futureleadersnow.org