Latinos, the fastest-growing segment of the population in the United States, consistently lag behind other ethnicities in academic test scores, high school graduation rates, and college degree attainment. Because a lack of basic education is correlated to lifelong poverty, Latinos could soon be relegated to a position of permanent underclass. Innovative solutions must be found to improve the educational outcomes of Latinos.
Traditional academic models do not appear to meet the needs of Latino youth. This incongruity may not indicate a lack of effort but rather, misplaced effort. Non-Latino educators and policymakers who work within their own cultural paradigms may be prepared only to diagnosis symptoms rather than address causes. They are, in effect, addressing the wrong problem.
Latino students must often straddle the cultures and languages of home and school. This requires interpretation of complex cultural nuances and acquisition of new linguistic skills. While many urban school districts work to address these concerns, they may not conversant with the fact that low-income Latino children are at high risk of exposure to violence and other traumatizing events. Likewise, educators may not understand that these experiences can interfere with thinking capacity in ways that mimic learning disabilities and behavioral issues.
A promising educational approach is a holistic model that addresses the academic, relational, emotional, and spiritual needs of Latino youth in a culturally competent environment. One such model is that used by Cloud & Fire Academy from 2009 to 2018.
The Christ-centered, holistic model emphasized a positive, emotionally safe environment where community was fostered, and youth were encouraged to deepen their spiritual lives. This project examined the transformative value of that program.