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We Must Change College and Career Education in Hispanic Communities Like Mine

In Salinas, California, college and career education must meet the needs of our predominantly low-income, Hispanic students.

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Passionate about giving youth a voice and telling their stories. Hopes to inspire other youth to speak their truth and be leaders in their communities. Loves crocheting, reading, listening to Taylor Swift, and discovering small, local shops.

(Image Source: Steinbeck Real Estate)

"Mamá, ¿sabe en donde puedo encontrar pasantías?”

(Mom, do you know where I can find internships?)

"No sé… pregúntale a la consejera de escuela o a tu maestra. Ellas te van a poder ayudar más porque tienen la información."

(I don’t know… ask your school counselor or your teacher. They will be able to help you more because they have more information.)

My mom didn’t attend high school or college, so she has limited knowledge about college and career readiness. Most parents in my community, Salinas, California, are in the same position. Here, 79.3 percent of people are Hispanic or Latino, 37.3 percent of people are foreign-born, and just 13.3 percent of adults have received a bachelor’s degree or higher. 

But at school, students struggle to find college and career resources. It is common to hear students complain about the slow responses from the guidance office. As a junior in high school, this lack of access to quality college and career information has been particularly stressful. Although I’m researching my options, I fear that it’s not enough.

In my community, students aspire for careers in nursing, law, agriculture and teaching. It’s clear why; in a community where agriculture is 24.1% of all jobs, and social assistance and healthcare is 18.2%, students have the most exposure to those jobs. 

Although these are perfectly good professions, they are not the full range of career opportunities, and many students don’t know about all of their options. Recently, one of my teachers showed a video about a day in the life of a software engineer. In our discussion, most students said they never considered such a career a possibility.

A study done by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that students in the 21st century have the job aspirations for careers that were created in the 19th or 20th centuries. This means that many students have minimal knowledge of new careers and the skills needed to pursue them. Students who do aim for these careers are more affluent.

In Salinas, where many students would be  first-generation college students, awareness of these careers is crucial. Google is a big help for those looking for possible careers, but there’s an advantage for those who have the opportunity to see the job in practice and the support in navigating their career search journey.

Schools and community organizations in Salinas should invest more in college and career readiness preparation. This could be done through career fairs and school wide college visits.

For example, at Natchez Adams School District in Mississippi, students have the opportunity to have training in different career paths in what they call the Career and Technology Center. Some of the courses students can take are on digital media technology, health science, health teaching, among others. Additionally, they have a program where they can help students have a “head-start” on higher education. High school students have the ability to enroll at their local community college and take classes to get their associate’s degrees. This pathway is strongly encouraged, and about 60% of students in the 2021 graduating class received their associate’s degree this way. 

I believe high schools in Salinas should implement similar programs that would overall help students feel more prepared as they enter the workforce. Implementing the programs would be the first step, but promoting them would be the second. Getting the information out to students should be a priority because many would be grateful for it. 

I encourage the Salinas Union High School District to consider enforcing more programs that will help their student population receive high quality college and career information in a structured manner that they could use as well as high quality assistance for future endeavors.