Held Thursday, October 21, 2010
Madren Conference Center, Clemson University
Approximately 100 persons representing university faculty, staff and students joined by members of the Upstate community participated in the October 21st Conference on Advancing Latino Achievement in Society (ALAS) sponsored by Clemson University‟s Hispanic Task Force. Attendees were privileged to hear and interact with two well-respected researchers in the field of sociology and education, Dr. Alejandro Portes and Dr. Sonia Nieto.
As Director of the Center for Migration and Development at Princeton University, Dr. Portes addressed the challenges and barriers faced by immigrants as they work towards assimilate. With data to frame the conversation, his conclusions echoed the beliefs of many attendees – with supportive and appropriate leadership immigrants can be viable members of multiple communities. Successful outcomes for immigrants will be common rather than exceptions. Effective school and community programs need to provide significant "others" (teachers, counselors, community mentors) who will be diligent in providing the model of what could be.
Dr. Nieto, Professor Emerita in Language, Literacy and Culture at the University of Massachusetts, framed her message within the theme of the impact of inequality. She challenged attendees to think differently about the "achievement gap‟ which permeates much of today‟s commentary on education. According to Nieto, the current understanding of the "achievement gap‟ concept is problematic because it ignores the existence of a "resource‟ gap (lack of funding, adequate facilities, needed texts) and a "caring‟ gap (teachers prepared for a diverse world, shortage of teachers in the neediest of communities) prevalent in today‟s schools. Like Portes, Nieto reiterated the need for "vigorous, external interventions" in order to "get students up to speed".
The day concluded with a cluster of small group conversations in which attendees voiced their ideas, perspectives and posed questions of how to reach out to our Hispanic families, validating their knowledge and talents, and assuring that the social, academic and economic rewards gained from having a more diverse community are accessible to all. These are the Next Steps. The work, and the need for the work, continues.