Worcester State University Executive Director of the Latino Education Institute Mary Jo Marion

Marion Co-Chairs Commission to Revisit Challenges to Latino Advancement and Education

February 4, 2019
By: Kristen O'Reilly

A new iteration of Worcester’s Commission on Latino Advancement and Education will be co-chaired by Mary Jo Marion, assistant vice president for urban affairs and the Latino Education Institute at Worcester State, and Quinsigamond Community College President Dr. Luis G. Pedraja. The commission has been developed to better serve the city’s Latino community, which represents 20 percent of the city’s population—its largest minority group.

Originally convened under Mayor Joseph O’Brien, the commission will revisit the issues raised in a report “Creating the Will: A Community Roadmap to Achieving Educational Excellence for Latino Students in Worcester,” published in July of 2011.

“Over the last decade as our school population has become more diverse than ever, we’ve steadily increased our graduation rate to the highest in our city’s history,” said Mayor Joseph M. Petty.  “We need to make sure that those gains are evenly shared across our city and for all of our students.”

Because 42 percent of all Worcester Public School students are Latino, increasing opportunities for this large segment of the population is essential to the continued growth of the economy and quality of life in the region.  The commission is tasked with recommending strategies and actions that assure Latino students fulfill their full potential. These strategies will span across the ages from early education through higher education and workforce development.  Additionally, the Commission will work to identify and reduce systemic barriers and offer solutions to issues that include the need for increased ESL, better linkages to the regional economy, and job opportunities.

Nationally, the 2017 U.S. Census report showed that 69 percent of Hispanics have a high school diploma, in comparison to 93 percent non-Hispanic whites, while 16 percent of Hispanics have a bachelor’s degree or higher in comparison to 36 percent of non-Hispanic whites. Worcester’s Latino population falls slightly behind the national averages, with 68 percent having graduated high school and 10 percent attaining a bachelor’s degree.

“We need these statistics to change, Worcester must be a place of promise for all residents built on equitable systems,” Marion said “It is imperative that we offer solutions to these issues, which will bring about a metamorphosis in our city.”  

Dr. Pedraja, who emigrated from Cuba and grew up in a low-income Miami neighborhood, is the first Latino college president in Worcester. He believes the commission can bring about great change to the City of Worcester and its residents.

“We need to make sure our Latino community has the resources it needs in order to thrive,” Dr. Pedraja said. “A healthy Latino community is key to a vibrant, robust Worcester.”

According to Mayor Petty’s office, the goal of the commission is to develop a greater awareness and understanding of all of the issues that affect the Latino community both inside and outside of school classroom.

“Our schools and our students are the canary in the coal mine,” Mayor Petty said. “The issues that our families and our neighbors face at home are played out in our schools every day.  Poverty, hunger, health disparities, and homelessness all contribute to the performance of our students and our schools.”

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