Gov. Brad Little told a group of Latino students he wants to improve internet access, recruit Latino educators and address the achievement gap that exists between Latinos and their white peers in Idaho public schools.
Latino students had the unique opportunity to ask Idaho’s governor questions about their public education during an hour-long, live-streamed event hosted by The Idaho Statesman and Idaho Education News on Wednesday. The event, Nuestras Voces: Latino Students Talk with Gov. Brad Little About Education, culminated the year-long Latino Listening Project, which was supported by an American Press Institute fellowship and a grant from the Education Writers Association.
Latino students make up 20 percent of Idaho’s student population, more than 50,000 youth.
The students who spoke with Little were:
- Jayleen Saucedo, a junior at the College of Idaho studying marketing and digital media with minors in Latin American studies and human performance. Saucedo is the president of the Association of Latino Americano Students (ALAS).
- Natalie Suaste, a first-year psychology student at University of Idaho who just graduated from Jerome High School.
- Janet Rodriguez, a junior at Minico Senior High School and the vice president of professionalism for Latinos in Action.
- Katelyn Quintero, a student at Boise State University who is majoring in business administration and is studying to be an immigration lawyer.
These students were able to ask the governor prepared questions about mental health, catching up academically after the pandemic and internet access for all students.
“It is especially difficult for Latino students (to catch up) because we often have parents who, as intelligent as they are, may not be formally educated or even speak English fluently so they can’t always help their children,” Saucedo said.
Little responded by saying: “My number one priority… is going to be, what do we do to address that gap? A device? Better connectivity doesn’t do it. Whether it’s going to be summer school, summer reading programs, more help in the classrooms.”
Suaste said she felt like Latino students didn’t matter to leaders in the Jerome School District. Over half the student population in the district is Latino, but only 6 percent of teachers identify as Latino and the administration is predominantly white.
Little responded by saying it’s a local matter and school boards and administrators need to recruit Latino teachers while the state can help by increasing teacher pay.
Rodriguez told the governor she has struggled with depression and online schooling has made matters worse for her.
“With depression, I just start to feel unmotived,” she said.
Little said the pandemic has slowed the state’s ability to address mental health needs, but it is something he plans to work on, especially after finding out how few schools have their own counselors.
“How do we do behavioral health diagnoses early, particularly for students, so we can not have problems later on in life?” he said.
Raul Mora, a middle school student from Jerome, and Quintero asked Little about adding a Latino supplemental curriculum to schools, which the governor agreed could improve student engagement, leading to better academic achievement.
“If you have a student that is going to be better engaged because they are learning Latino history and they’re more engaged in it, they are going to have a higher success. They are going to be better students, they are going to have a higher graduation rate,” he said. “There should be incentive for school districts to do that.”
High school student Andrea Ramírez asked about internet access. Little reminded the Facebook audience that he sent out $40 million to schools to address distance-learning issues like Internet connection.
“It is unfair that some students don’t have access to the Internet.” Little said.