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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Academic achievement program for Latino students finding big success in Oklahoma

STILLWATER, Okla. – With plenty of hard evidence confirming its strategy is working, Juntos, a unique program helping Latino students and their families hit all the right academic notes, is poised to expand its impact in Oklahoma.
Academic achievement program for Latino students finding big success in Oklahoma

Juntos students participate in hands-on activities during a visit to the OSU campus in Stillwater this summer.

Now entering its fourth year of operation at East Central High School and Nathan Hale Junior High School in Tulsa, Juntos serves about 80 students with a tight focus on boosting academic achievement, elevating parental involvement and promoting positive peer relationships.

The program also sponsors a two-day stay on the Stillwater campus of Oklahoma State University every summer, where participants have the chance to experience college life and interact with professors through a slate of hands-on activities and workshops.

“It’s helping to motivate me for the future and everything, telling me this and that for a better college opportunity,” said Juntos participant Jimmy Buniges, a freshman at East Central.

Angelica Santillan, a sophomore who also participated in Juntos, appreciates the relationships she has built with her mentors in the program.

“I love it. We have tutoring and they help me with my grades,” she said. “They know how to explain things very well and they help you with applications and tell you what you should be aiming for.”

Findings from 2014-15 program evaluations only bolster anecdotal evidence of Juntos’ effectiveness. Based on data collected before and after program participation, the amount of education students desire and realistically expect to earn dramatically increased. Parents surveyed on the same question also registered a significant upswing in the desired and expected amount of education of their students.

Participants’ drug use and likelihood of accepting an offer to use drugs dipped and there was a notable decrease in the number of their close friends who skip school, earn detention and exhibit other negative behaviors.

Juntos students also posted a 33 percent decrease in absences, 23 percent drop in tardiness and a 29 percent rise in grade-point average.

The statistics and participant feedback confirm Juntos is making an impact in each of its target areas while the time spent at OSU reinforces their aspirations of attending college, said Ron Cox, the lead expert for Juntos in Oklahoma, OSU associate professor for human development and family science as well as Cooperative Extension family science specialist.

“The trip is really about bringing minority students to campus, exposing them to other kids, professors, and campus life so they go away saying ‘this is cool. I can do this.’ If they take that message away, it dramatically increases the likelihood they will enroll and attend an institution of higher learning,” he said.

In the coming year, Juntos expects to expand its reach to five more middle schools with a portion of a $11.3 million National Institutes of Health grant creating the Center for Integrative Research on Childhood Adversity at the OSU Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa.

The center’s aim is to bring together diverse fields of study to develop solutions for underprivileged children, youth and families.

With the NIH grant, which will provide five years of funding for the program through 2020, program administrators anticipate enrolling an additional 200 youth in Juntos and route another 200 youth into a similar program.

Cox, who will oversee research comparing those initiatives’ effectiveness, said Juntos and other programs like it are extremely important for the future of Oklahoma.

“Our state’s demographics are rapidly changing and the Latino children of today will make up a sizeable portion of tomorrow’s workforce,” he said. “Besides the important moral implications and social justice considerations, if innovative steps are not taken to help these youth thrive socially and academically, we will not have enough qualified workers to meet the state’s demands, which will have severe economic implications.”

Latinos are the largest and fastest growing U.S. ethnic group, representing 38 percent of individuals under 19. They are projected to constitute 50 percent of the K-12 school population by 2050.

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REPORTER/MEDIA CONTACT:
Leilana McKindra
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
158 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
Phone: 405-744-6792
Fax: 405-744-5739
Email: leilana.mckindra@okstate.edu

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078
405.744.5000