President Barack Obama believes that education is the pathway that kids, "need to make the most of their abilities; to make the most of their opportunities; to make the most of their lives." But not all Americans are enjoying the same opportunities. Hispanic Americans drop out of high school at a higher rate than other Americans. Juan Sepulveda, the director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, is on a mission to find out how to address this serious issue.
Earlier this summer, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan asked Sepulveda to hold a series of "community conversations" with Hispanic Americans across the nation. The talks are taking place in 16 states and Puerto Rico. They began in Texas, in July, and will continue through September.
What is the White House Initiative?
The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans was created in 1990 by Executive Order. The purpose of the plan is to promote quality education for Hispanic Americans and to find out why there is an achievement gap between some Latino students and their peers.
On July 17, Sepulveda arrived in Houston, his last stop in Texas. Sepulveda met with community leaders and educators at the downtown campus of Houston Community College. School representatives and others spoke out about their concerns. They offered suggestions as to what the government can do to help. The information gathered will be used to update the Executive Order, which President Barack Obama plans to sign later this year.
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Sepulveda says education is at the top of the President's list of priorities. At the meeting in Houston, Sepulveda discussed a range of topics, including increasing resources for early-childhood education for children under 5. "It is one of the key pillars for us to prepare them when entering Kindergarten," he told the audience. He emphasized that early childhood education would help set the foundation for grades K-5.
Sepulveda said that he was aware of the tough issues facing the Hispanic community, including the high dropout rate. "The President is challenging us to do everything we can to get 100% of these kids through high school," he said. One idea being considered is to offer rewards to educators who are doing a good job. The White House Initiative committee also plans to work on a way for all 50 states to agree on a single set of education standards.
One day after Sepulveda's visit, City Councilman James Rodriguez, hosted the Houston Latino Mayoral Debate. Education was a big topic. Candidate Gene Locke, Houston's former City Attorney, suggested several things communities could do to keep young people in school, including mentoring programs and after-school programs for middle schoolers. He also said that schools should work with parents to attack the dropout problem. "We need to make sure we keep our young people excited about education," he said.
How important is education? Extremely! "In a global economy, where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge," says President Obama, "a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity-it is a prerequisite."