Why We Celebrated Latinx Educators in New England to set the Stage for Greater Diversity in Schools
By: Lorena Lopera and Manny Cruz
This Hispanic Heritage Month, we came together with educators, state legislators, and Latinos leaders from all across the nation at the first annual State of Latino Education. We discussed the critical role that educators of color play in New England, and the potential we have as a community to set a national example of what it truly means to prioritize and invest in teachers and students of color.
With the help of 18 legislators including Representative Chynah Tyler, Representative Frank Moran, and Senator Sal DiDomenico, we had the privilege of honoring 34 Latino educators who not only showed up for students during the pandemic, but went above and beyond for their communities to ensure their students still received a high-quality learning experience even if it wasn’t in the classroom. Latinx educators and school leaders like Dr. Almi Guajardo Abeyta, Estaphanie Lugo, and Filiberto Santiago supported their students during this trying and unprecedented time — devoting time after school to assist children in the virtual classroom, connecting with families directly to ensure they had the resources to help their kids at home, and getting creative about what teaching looked like during the pandemic – yes, some educators turned to YouTube and tiktok to deliver their lesson so students could go back and learn with their families at times that worked best for them.
Highlighting the ways that Latino teachers stepped up during the pandemic was not just a focus for our summit, it’s a testament to why we are so passionate about educator diversity. Educators of color are critical to the future of the education system in New England, and if there’s anything that we learned from the pandemic, it’s that these educators are pivotal in supporting our most marginalized and often neglected students.
Students of color now make up 40% of all students in Massachusetts’ education system, and Latino students are the fastest growing student population. Despite this demographic shift, only 8 percent of all teachers in Massachusetts are educators of color; and the greatest disparity in representation is between Latinx students and Latinx educators. Our Latino students will have better opportunities and higher levels of achievement when they have educators in the classroom that reflect their backgrounds.
The State of Latino Education made it clear that we must invest in and cultivate more Latino educators throughout the state, and we have the opportunity to make that a reality through the Educator Diversity Act. The bill would create new pathways for teachers to become licensed educators by providing alternatives to certification, and would strengthen and fix the pipeline that currently exists for educators of color to enter the profession.
One thing we have heard from many Latino educators in our fellowship programs is that hiring more Latinos is just scratching the surface of this problem. There needs to be an overhaul of the way schools and school districts retain and professionally support Latinx educators once they are in the profession. As we saw during the pandemic, so many Latinx educators are also cultural brokers, translators and family engagement strategists for their local schools and that work is often overlooked and not rewarded. The Educator Diversity Act would create mechanisms for us to track whether or not school districts are retaining educators of color; and create more welcoming environments in each campus for Latinx educators. This practice is overdue.
At the State of Latino Education Summit, we were not only able to come together as a community to reimagine an education system that truly represents the students it serves, but we celebrated the Latinx trail blazers that are paving the way. State legislators, educators, and attendees showed up to voice their commitment to growing the number of educators of color in our classrooms and finally having Latino students have teachers with their shared backgrounds and experiences. Together we can make real change in New England, because the next generation of Latino students is relying on us to make it happen.