Hispanic achievement improving at area schools

Jacobs students listen as teacher Megan Placko gives her lesson Feb. 25. The number of Latino graduates taking advanced placement courses has more than quadrupled in the past decade, with 8,661 in 2013 compared to 1,994 in 2003.
Jacobs students listen as teacher Megan Placko gives her lesson Feb. 25. The number of Latino graduates taking advanced placement courses has more than quadrupled in the past decade, with 8,661 in 2013 compared to 1,994 in 2003.

Officials at Woodstock North High School kept getting the same questions from their Hispanic families about basic services, like financial aid and college entrance exams, designed to help students prepare for their future.

They may have finally found an answer this school year.

Principal Brian McAdow and his staff started the “Future Latino Leaders” program, a group of high-achieving Hispanic students that receive extra support with Advanced Placement testing, college preparation and other career services like resume writing.

“It’s something we crafted for our school,” McAdow said. “There are many students who come from first- and second-generation immigrants, and they don’t know all the benefits of the services offered because it’s not something that comes from the culture they are coming from.”

The new program was a direct response to Hispanic students’ low participation in rigorous AP and honors classes, McAdow said.

With a 35 percent Hispanic population, the school’s specialized program should help close the achievement gap – the historic academic disparity between minority and white students.

Schools throughout Illinois also are starting to devote more resources toward closing that gap for Hispanic students, according to data from the 10th annual AP Report to the Nation.

The percentages of Hispanic students taking Advanced Placement courses and succeeding on AP exams are at 10-year highs, the report shows. Schools across McHenry County are experiencing the trend.

At Woodstock North, the number of Hispanic students enrolled in AP courses has steadily increased each year since 2011, McAdow said.

Across town, nearly all Hispanic students at Woodstock High School enrolled last year in AP courses. Hispanic students represented 24 percent of the school’s AP enrollment, while the Hispanic population totaled 26.8 percent of the overall student body.

The participation was far different from the 2005-06 school year, when 0.5 percent of AP students were Hispanic, said Principal Corey Tafoya.

“It was pretty negligible, pretty terrible,” Tafoya said. “We’ve really worked hard to encourage students to pursue those opportunities and as you can see by the numbers, it’s really working now.”

Tafoya credited a heightened focus and changed mindset among guidance counselors and teachers to target and promote the benefits of more challenging coursework to the school’s Hispanic students.

School officials no longer think AP and honors classes are best suited for students coming from affluent homes, he said.

“The teachers were appalled by [the numbers],” Tafoya said. “No one had really analyzed the data and thought about it. I think what they have done is expand their umbrella and figure out the definition of an AP student.”

The Hispanic student population at Carpentersville-based District 300 is the fastest growing demographic taking AP exams at the district’s three high schools, said Ben Churchill, assistant superintendent for high school.

Since the 2009-10 school year, the number of Hispanic students taking AP exams has increased by 214 percent compared to a 114 percent increase among Asian students, a 74 percent increase among black students and a 54 percent increase among white students.

“We are starting to see the gap close in terms of the number of Hispanic students taking AP exams,” Churchill said.

The district systemwide has made rigorous courses a priority, he said.

District 300’s middle schools have started to experiment with pre-AP courses. Specialized services throughout the district also are designed to improve minority students’ success.

The fact that the district’s Hispanic achievement trends align with schools across the state simply shows the work being done to lift minority students, Churchill said.

“The idea of closing the gap for blacks and Hispanics is not a new one,” he said. “It’s more validating than anything, that the work we are doing here is not being done in isolation.”

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