LEI Celebrates 20 Years of Latino Excellence

June 29, 2020
By: Hana Lasell

The Latino Education Institute (LEI) at Worcester State University is celebrating 20 years of providing education and advocacy to Latino students in Central Massachusetts. The LEI was founded in 2000 in response to a call by the Worcester Working Coalition for Latino Students for a university-based institute that would focus on and illuminate the enrichment, academic support, and education outcomes of Latino students in kindergarten through college.

Amid the many domestic and global struggles facing the Latino community, including the current pandemic and challenges imposed by the Trump administration, Executive Director Hilda Ramirez points out that “the LEI has grown and evolved to address the most pressing education needs of our families and students.”

Much of this evolution can be attributed to the persistent pressure applied by LEI to the City of Worcester and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to prioritize policy initiatives that benefit Latino students, as well as to a concerted effort to develop strong partnerships with school districts.

“In the past 10 years alone, the LEI implemented strong policy initiatives like the Mayor’s Commission on Educational Excellence for Latino Students,” says Ramirez. “This policy work has allowed us to focus efforts and design programs that meet the needs of students who are most in need—like English learners. We strengthened our relationship with school districts to meet the needs of these students. Today, we are a respected voice when it comes to the education of Latino students and family engagement.”

Most recently, LEI formed In Pursuit of Equity, Accountability and Success for Latinx Students in Massachusetts (PEAS); a collaborative of public higher education institutes that work to increase awareness about and responses to equity issues facing Latinx students.

“PEAS works toward equitable and accountable education systems, institutions, and leadership to ensure student success, as well as accountable education systems, institutions, and leadership to ensure student success.” says Assistant Vice President for Urban Affairs Mary Jo Marion. “We are committed to centering the Latinx student experience to shape, unite, and guide systemic change.”

The LEI’s model, which centers around mentoring, civic engagement, community partnerships, innovation, and family engagement, has been so successful that it has been expanded to and adopted in cities like Springfield and Southbridge, increasing the Institute’s reach and impact on Latino students and their families living in Central Massachusetts.

“We want to have a strong impact and we know our programs work,” Ramirez says. “It’s great when we are able to grow and expand the work.”

To celebrate their 20th anniversary, the LEI is planning to highlight its important work by publishing the stories of 20 LEI participants—current and past—who have demonstrated the Institute’s success.

“We are proud to celebrate the many stories of students who are succeeding in enrolling and completing a college education and moving on to pursue their career dreams.”

While plans for a gala have been placed on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ramirez says that plans for a Friday, Sept. 18, celebration at the JMAC black box theater in downtown Worcester are currently in the works, and that the LEI has invited noted educator and poet Javier Avila to speak and present scholarships at the event.

In addition to the stories and celebration, the LEI has established a giving campaign in honor of their 20th anniversary. Funds raised will go toward the continued development of the LEI’s programs to ensure that Latino students and families in Central Massachusetts receive the educational support they need and deserve. Learn more at worcester.edu/LEI-Give.

Read more about the LEI in the Fall 2019 Worcester State Magazine: https://magazine.worcester.edu/worcester-state-magazine/fall-2019/features/bridging-the-latino-academic-gap

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