New program for Hispanic girls

It is not uncommon for a teacher to inspire a student. It is less likely, however, that a student inspires a teacher.

But it was a student who inspired Anita Brooks to create a program designed to integrate Hispanic girls into the world of computer technology.

Marcella Garcia, a senior at Carson High School, enrolled in Brooks' computer-aided drafting class last year. Garcia spoke English as her second language and struggled with computer terminology.

"It's hard for us," Garcia said. "We're bilingual and the computer is something else. It's like a third language."

Brooks said she knew that Garcia understood the concepts, she just couldn't apply them because of the language barrier.

"It wasn't a math thing," Brooks said. "It was strictly a language thing."

Garcia would spend at least two hours outside of class in the computer lab working on the computer. Still, she was frustrated.

"Sometimes she would just put her head down and cry," Brooks said.

Garcia persevered, received an "A" in the class and last semester took a college-level class.

Brooks said she was pleased with Garcia's success but wished there was some way to make the process easier.

She found a way to make that wish come true when she saw a gender-based grant available through the National Science Foundation.

She said she was a little hesitant at first.

"It is very hard in a school setting to earmark one sex," she said. "It's a public school and you want them all to succeed no matter what gender they are."

However, she said she could not resist the opportunity and applied for and received the grant.

"I wrote it for her," Brooks said. "She's a brilliant student."

This set the wheels in motion for a geographic information systems class of all Hispanic girls held every morning at 7 in the High Tech Center on campus. The class teaches students how to geographically correlate data on the computer to make decisions and answer questions.

"They take this class in addition to all of their other classes," Brooks said.

Students just finished the second week of the class. So far, so good.

"Es una buena oportunidad para nosotras (It's a good opportunity for us)," said Gladys Reyes, a junior.

Reyes is one of 19 girls in the class who heard about it through the teacher's aide, Liz Gutierrez.

Gutierrez, a 1996 graduate of Dayton High School, recruited for the class in English-as-a-second-language classes on campus.

"We thought we'd be lucky to get 10 girls," Brooks said. "She sold the program so well, we got 19."

Selling the program went beyond just talking about it in other classes.

In some cases, Gutierrez said, the parents believed strongly in the tradition that the woman's place was in the home and that the girls did not need to take advanced computer classes.

Gutierrez went to individual homes to speak with parents.

"I explained to their parents that the girls need to study because they need to have a better life," she said.

She said the first time was the most difficult.

"After I've talked to a few, it's become easier," Gutierrez said. "I can manage it better."

The next obstacle was transportation. Ten of the girls could not get to school by 7 a.m.

Brooks arranged for a community bus to pick the girls up every morning and take them to class.

Once in class, Brooks explains the instructions in English and Gutierrez clarifies in Spanish.

"As the weeks go by, I'm going to try to explain more in English," Gutierrez said. "They'll learn GIS and English and their skills will be high."

Gutierrez said she applied for the position because she likes to be involved with the Hispanic community and to get experience.

"I've always wanted to be a teacher," she said. "I think it's a good opportunity for me to work with a teacher."

She said at first the girls were reluctant to approach her with questions but now are becoming more comfortable.

"I'm becoming friends with them," she said. "Now some girls come up and ask me if I can help them."

Freshman Alma Mesa said it is helpful to have an aide who speaks Spanish in the classroom.

"Sometimes I don't understand when the teacher is speaking in English," she said.

The final step of the program is mentoring. Brooks said she has found businesses willing to mentor the students and is looking for more.

"That mentoring piece is instrumental and crucial," Brooks said. She said she expects to incorporate the mentors later in the semester.

The grant will pay for the students to receive an hourly rate or the students can receive school credit.

Diana Mayoral, a senior who took the class last year, is in this year's advanced course.

"I'm grateful that they're giving us Hispanics the opportunity to advance," Mayoral said. "We want to be up with everybody else."


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