Latino Hope College students partner with LAUP to mentor youth

A new partnership between Latin Americans United for Progress (LAUP) and a Hope College professor’s Spanish class has added fresh dimensions to creating and serving a community.

Hope students in the Spanish for Heritage Speakers class taught by Dr. Berta Carrasco are mentoring the high school students in LAUP’s ¡Adelante! and ¡Más Adelante! youth programs in addition to serving in LAUP’s other initiatives. 

Although hundreds of Hope students volunteer throughout the Holland area every year, what makes the new initiative special is that the students in Spanish for Heritage Speakers all grew up with Spanish spoken at home — much like the younger students with whom they’re working.

“What is unique about this experience, besides having a whole class serving in just one institution, is that Latinos are helping Latinos,” says Carrasco, an associate professor of Spanish. “When you see your people, I think that can be very impactful.”

The partnership marks a step forward in LAUP's partnership with Hope College’s Spanish program. Starting this fall, students in Carrasco’s courses will be able to intern and volunteer at LAUP for course credit for the first time in the organization’s history. The program is designed for LAUP students to create impactful and meaningful relationships with current Hope College students, many of whom share the same lived experiences. 

Young students see their future

Johnny Rodriguez, executive director of LAUP, is excited that the students grades 8-12 in ¡Adelante! And ¡Más Adelante! have a chance not only to learn but to see their own future through the role models from Hope.

“Our program is focused on college readiness, college preparation,” he says. “The majority of our students are the first generation in their family to seek to attend college. They’re building relationships with recently graduated high school students that look like them, and see that represented in a goal of theirs, and that it’s achievable.”

Hope freshman Karina Reyes, of Holland, is among the students serving with ¡Adelante! and ¡Más Adelante! She didn’t participate in the program while in high school, but having recently made the adjustment to college, t she appreciates what it can mean to those who are.

“I was not a part of this program in high school, which I regret since it is a fantastic program. if I had known about it, I would have participated,” she says. “I enjoy LAUP because they provide a bridge from high school to college. They provide excellent classes and help students to feel more secure about continuing their education.”

Mutual benefit

Hope has offered Spanish for Heritage Speakers for more than a decade, and Carrasco has taught it for the past eight years. About 20 students enroll each time it’s offered. One purpose of the course — which is taught entirely in Spanish — is to help the students improve in skills like grammar and writing, but it especially focuses on Latino culture and history. The service component is new this year, but builds on Carrasco’s experience teaching another course, Service to the Community, since 2017.

In addition to ¡Adelante! and ¡Más Adelante!, Spanish for Heritage Speakers students are also working with LAUP’s citizenship program and GED program.

As part of a college course, the experiences with LAUP are also intended to benefit the Hope students, who learn more about their community and the difference that they can make through service to others. But there’s more to it than that. Especially for those who are from homes and may have grown up with a large Latino presence in their lives, the time that they spend with LAUP provides connections with people who understand and share many of their traditions. That, too, Rodriguez noted, can be important for student success.

“Nationally, when first-generation Latinos go to school, about 80% of them leave college, and part of that is a lack of community,” he said. “A benefit for the students at Hope is that they are getting engaged and engrained with a Latino community, and that supports them as well.”

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Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.