Posted at: 08/20/2013 6:58 PM
By: Jenna Lohse

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Summit Focuses to Further Latino Education

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- Minnesota ranks the lowest in the nation for Latino high school student graduation. Now regional school and city officials are brainstorming ways to change that.

This is isn't an issue unique to any one school district or region for that matter. Low graduation rates among the Latino population has been an issue for decades, but with Minnesota ranking the worst in the nation, that sparked a Latino Education Panel Discussion in Austin.

"I first came here when I was 8 years old at the time my parents they didn't know very much English. At parent teacher conferences we always needed an interpreter, so they weren't very aware of what activities we did,” said Karem Salas Ramirez, recent graduate of Riverland Community College.

Latino families like Karem Salas Ramirez’ are becoming very common in Minnesota and integration into American education is often something that's hard to overcome.

"This is a fairly common challenge for all minority and American Indian communities and poor communities and its primary derived from the fact that the parents are either new immigrant,” said Hector Garcia, Executive Director of Chicano Latino Affairs Council.

Hector Garcia says there's many who work several jobs to support the family. But one idea from the Latino Education Summit in Austin, it's all about engaging students starting at a young age.

"I think the biggest thing you have to do is really expose these students, Latino students, to college and get them on a campus way before they're juniors and seniors in high school," said Michael Munoz, Superintendent of Rochester Public Schools.

Minnesota has the worst achievement gap between Latino students and European American students and school officials are working to change that.

"Providing academic support during a school day and working with your community partners to provide support after school as well," said Munoz.

"All that starts from the beginning and that's how you get to the top," said Karem Salas Ramirez.

Karem Salas Ramirez should know, she just graduated from Riverland Community College and says her success can be attributed to encouragement from teachers and family.

"There's so many Hispanic and Latinos coming in, so many more then I started at Riverland, So I definitely see the difference, but definitely isn't enough and needs to be pushed more," she said.

In addition to reaching students the group also wants to reach parents. Part of their goal of getting to younger students needs to be with the encouragement of their family.