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Last modified: Wednesday, October 22, 2008

School of Education dean keynote speaker for conference on Indiana Latino students

Governor's office, state agencies holding conference to help improve educational outcomes

Oct. 22, 2008

INDIANAPOLIS -- Dean of the Indiana University School of Education, Gerardo Gonzalez, will be the keynote speaker Thursday morning (Oct. 23) for the "Educational Equity for Indiana's Latino Students" Conference at the Sheraton North Hotel in Indianapolis. Gonzalez will share some of his personal story as a Cuban immigrant and address some of the pressing issues in Latino education in Indiana. His address is at 9 a.m., beginning a day of sessions focusing on Latino education.

Gerardo Gonzalez

Gerardo Gonzalez

Print-Quality Photo

The conference is organized by the Indiana Governor's office, the Indiana Department of Education, and the Indiana Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs, in collaboration with a statewide planning committee. Conference attendees include superintendents, school board members, counselors, English as a Second Language (ESL) staff, higher education representatives, legislators and local community agencies and service providers.

"The planning committee thought Dr. Gonzalez would be an ideal keynote speaker for this conference because he serves as an inspiring example for Indiana's Latino students," said Lauren Harvey, assistant director of the Office of English Language Learning and Migrant Education in the Indiana Department of Education. "His professional advocacy on behalf of educational equity and access for underrepresented groups and his personal experience as an immigrant complement the objectives of this conference."

Gonzalez arrived in South Florida with his parents and his sister in the early 1960s. He said that he tried to make himself "invisible" during his days in Miami public school because of the problems he encountered as a new student who didn't speak English. Gonzalez said administrators in his school did not know how to handle the large influx of Latino students at that time, varying his instruction from a separate classroom with other Spanish-speaking students to immersing him and other students in English language instruction. Early on, a principal expelled him because he leaned to ask another student (in Spanish) what the principal had said as he sternly lectured the immigrant students on proper behavior.

"But for every child like me who experienced those problems and is able to overcome and succeed there are literally hundreds of thousands, maybe millions out there, who don't get that second chance," Gonzalez said. "So to the extent I can draw on my personal experience to convey to this group just how critically important their work is, then I'm pleased to do that."

Rapid growth among the Latino population is expected to continue in Indiana. The Indiana Business Research Center in the IU Kelley School of Business reported last month the Latino population will add 284,600 residents in the next 20 years, accounting for 38 percent of the state's growth. The Latino share of the total Indiana population will go from 4.5 percent to 8 percent. According to the U.S. Department of Education, English Language Learner enrollment in the state grew 408 percent between the school years of 1994-95 and 2005-06, third-fastest among all states.

Gonzalez said educating these new learners is vital. He pointed out that Latino student achievement has lagged other groups. The consequence of continued low performance could create a large, chronically poor immigrant group with little hope of achieving the American dream.

"What we will be doing is creating a structural underclass in this country that by its sheer size will undermine the foundations of our way of life," Gonzalez said.

Other sessions in the conference will focus on the dropout rate, the achievement gap, student engagement and parent involvement. Organizers are asking participants to implement a community action plan for improving Latino educational outcomes.