Indiana News

‘Star Parents’ break down education barriers for Indiana Latino students

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A group of parents is hoping to get more Latino kids to go to college.

Anahi Santos is a first-generation college student and a 21st Century Scholar. Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars program started in 1990, and eligible students who maintain the Scholar Pledge to excellence in school and life receive a scholarship for up to four years of up to 100% tuition at eligible Indiana colleges or universities after they graduate from high school.

Santos said Wednesday, “I personally, my parents, they didn’t make it passed the sixth grade, so I didn’t have anyone to turn to” for how to pursue higher education.

She will work with Hispanic students and families in Clinton County, north of Indianapolis, where there’s a need for more support. More than 18% of the county’s population is Hispanic, according to 2020 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Santos recalled her experience of getting into higher education: “The older I got, the more I noticed that school does come with its benefits and it is important to not be afraid to go find those resources.”

According to the 2021 Indiana College Equity report, only 49% of Hispanic high school graduates go to college compared to 61% of white students. To help bring change, eight Padres Estrellas, which translates to “Star Parents,” are working to bring resources to these students across the state.

Santos is one of the parents. “For me, it was kind of ‘I fit in the shoes of the students that we’re trying to reach.'”

Another of the parents is Noemi Lozano. “I want to be able to inform parents and educate them.”

Lozano is also a star parent at River Forest Community School Corp. based in New Chicago. Lozano says there’s a large Hispanic population in her community. “I know the need and I see that they need someone.”

The Padres Estrellas initiative uses parents as partners at the local level to increase access to higher education for Spanish-speaking Hoosiers.

Teresa Lubbers, Indiana’s commissioner for higher education who’s expected to step down in March, said, “We are sometimes not the right messengers to the people we’re trying to reach and by that I mean either higher education or government because sometimes we’re too far removed. People think higher ed is trying to get their money and they think government is too far away.”

She added, “So, one of the things that we have discovered that really was the genesis of this program was really that we needed people who were embedded in the community who knew people, who are trusted advisers.”

Padres Estrellas will connect with schools and neighborhoods and focus on helping students and families access state financial aid, enroll in the 21st Century Scholars Program, and more.

José Medina, school and community outreach manager for the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, said, “Here at the Commission for Higher Education, we really, really lean on our outreach team to get the message out, let people know that those opportunities are available to them.”

The participating members of the community can remain Padres Estrellas after a one-year term.