Latino program founder reports successes

What started as a group of volunteers organizing a traditional celebration has now grown into an association focused on increasing parent involvement in education.

Leticia Servin, founder and president of the Association of Latino Families, spoke to the Carson City School Board on Tuesday. She traced the organizations roots from April 20, 2004, when a group got together to observe Dia del Nino, a traditional Latin American holiday recognizing children.

From there, the group went on to form the Comite de Padres Latinos, or the Committee of Latino Parents. The committee's headquarters was a storage closet at Mark Twain Elementary School, where Servin is a teacher's aide.

With the increased membership and increasing roles, the committee is now transforming into the Association of Latino Families.

"We're no longer a committee to do a single thing," she said. "We do several things, an association is more of what we're about."

Servin said that in the infancy stages, organizers met with community members, business leaders, youth activists and other committees to determine the needs of Latinos in Carson City.

Among other barriers, like language and lack of experience with the educational system in the United States, Servin said they found a roadblock in some cultural differences.

"In Latin countries, volunteerism falls to the wealthy and well-positioned," she explained. "It's not part of their history and culture."

She said it is a mistake to assume that programs will attract Latino participation if offered in Spanish. It's as much about the culture as the language, she said. And that presents its own set of problems, with Latin America being made up of 20 different countries and even more dialects and customs.

"One size does not fit all," she said. "One program can't fit every Latino family's needs."

Among the offerings in the association are health programs for families, educational programs for parents and leadership organizations for students.

A youth recognition program, Latinos Hacia Excelencia, has awarded 889 students in the school district for achievements in academics as well as in other areas. More than 2,200 parents have attended the ceremonies.

The association hosted its first Latino Youth Dance this winter, and, Servin said, she was hesitant at first, but it turned out well.

"The kids were very respectful," she said. "There were no problems whatsoever."

Servin outlined goals for the upcoming year, including more involvement of parents, students and teachers at the high school level.

Among programs getting started is the Latino Summer Community Project.

Lucia Munoz, 19, a member of the youth leadership organization, will be organizing the project to train youth leaders to tutor younger children to help them retain what they learned in school.

Servin said it is her practice to familiarize the youth with the programs in the association so they can one day take them over.

"I'm always guiding them," she said.

Also at the meeting:

Representatives from NV Energy recognized their partnership with Carson City School District by handing out a dozen compact fluorescent light bulbs to each trustee, district employee and member of the audience.

Mary Simmons, vice president of external affairs, said the bulbs will save 75 percent compared to a regular bulb and last seven to 10 times longer.

Earlier in the week, every employee in the district also received the bulbs.

Simmons thanked the district for its dedication to energy efficiency.

"Congratulations and thank you so much for the partnership you have with NV Energy," she said.


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