By Kelly Grossman
New Opportunities for Hamilton’s Hispanic Youth
Princeton, NJ – For Hispanics Inspiring Students’ Performance and Achievement (HISPA), this 2017 means new role models for Hamilton students. New Jersey-based nonprofit HISPA mobilizes Hispanic professionals to step into classrooms to show students that they too can achieve their dreams if they work hard and stay in school.
The organization’s yearlong Role Model Program launched in two Hamilton high schools this month. The first session was held at Nottingham High School on January 12. The first role models—HISPA CEO Dr. Ivonne Díaz-Claisse and Sandra Batista, Ph.D. and Princeton University Computer Science Lecturer—shared their educational and professional journeys with students.
Díaz-Claisse started once again at Hamilton High School West on January 25.
Her co-presenter and role model? Hamilton Councilwoman Ileana Schirmer.
Councilwoman Schirmer is the first Hispanic to hold this office and has been a strong advocate for bringing HISPA to her community. Learning about HISPA, she recognized the impact the organization could have on students and contacted the school district. With financial support from the Comcast Foundation, the Roma Bank Foundation, and the Hamilton School District, 130 Hamilton students had access to role models who showed them that their dreams can be realities if they pursue higher education.
These students joined the 9,000 HISPA has reached since the organization began with Díaz-Claisse’s visit to a local New Jersey school. While speaking to students, she shared her story and the obstacles she faced growing up in Puerto Rico due to a lack of role models. Despite these challenges, she went on to earn two master’s degrees and her Ph.D. in mathematics. Her story struck a chord with the school’s growing Hispanic student population. Díaz-Claisse realized that students craved role models with whom they shared language or cultural background, someone that reminded them of their families.
She also knew there were many professionals like her who could do the same. Hispanic student success is critical not only to our community but to America’s future: Hispanic students will make up nearly one of every three students by 2025. Though we have made progress, Hispanics still have the highest dropout rate of all major racial and ethnic groups, and fewer than 10 percent have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. For everyone to fulfill their potential, participate in high-skilled jobs, and become key contributors to America’s future, we need to start with closing the academic achievement gap. With such urgent work to be done, HISPA quickly grew from these grassroots connections, eventually reaching as far as New York, Texas, and Florida. Now, work begins in Hamilton.
Kelly Grossman is HISPA’s Communications and Development Manager
HISPA (609) 865-0124