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National Latino Children Summit: access to education and job readiness

Phoenix Arizona marked on map with red pushpin. Selective focus on the word Phoenix and the pushpin. Pin is in an angle and casts some shadow to the right. Midground is sharp while foreground and background is blurry.

At its core, demography is the act of counting people. But it is important to study the forces that are driving population change and measure how these changes will impact the lives of Arizonans and the future of our children.

We at the Summit are not demographers but see the demography of the United States changing at an accelerated pace.

Olga Aros

Olga Aros

The working age population is aging and decreasing and soon will go from 63 percent to 57 percent. Millennials, between the ages of 18-34, are a young crucial segment of the future workforce, taxpayers, citizens, consumers and voters and must be ready to take their rightful place in our society.

The U.S. Census counts 50.5 million Latinos in the United States and, according to the Pew Research Center by 2035 one-third of all American children will be Latino

Arizona is a reflection of the demographic shifts of population happening in the nation. Latinos represent 30 percent of Arizona’s population and millennials between 18-33 years of age represent 42 percent of workers and eligible voters among the Latino population.  Latino millennials represent the eruption of a powerful workforce of the future in Arizona.

Is Arizona leading the way into the 21st Century? Does Arizona cultivate the richness of a culture that currently represents 42 percent of children in K-12 schools? Arizona is ranked 48th in the nation on education spending, but then the state’s commitment to improve the quality of education has always wavered. This attitude makes Arizona ground zero for the education of young Latinos and all children.

The National Latino Children’s Summit, to be held on October 21 in Phoenix, will convene policymakers, industry executives, and educators to discuss work readiness and address the multitude of issues related to the education of young Latinos. The intent of the Summit is to draw the attention of Arizonans to change and improve the quality of instruction and the condition of schools that Latino students attend; address Latino high school dropout rates and look for ways to enhance the state’s capacity to effectively teach multicultural students who are bilingual. Schools must strive to prepare students for job readiness and a technology-driven workplace. Can Arizona improve the knowledge, skills and cross-cultural competencies of teachers and administrators to make this shift in teaching a new generation of multicultural students?

Arizona’s prosperity will largely depend on our ability to strengthen the contribution and participation of Latinos in productive and successful ways in every facet of society. From birth, Latino children will bring strong family ties that bind, a traditional culture, coupled by a strong work ethic and a deep seated belief in our nation.

How do we prepare today’s generation of American children and teens to be tomorrow’s workforce? What policy reforms are needed at the federal, state, and local levels to support computer science education and put more computers in classrooms? What public-private partnerships are helping to engage young Americans in computer science and STEM?

For too long, young Latinos have struggled to reach even the first rung of the opportunity ladder. Their future sits in a deeply divided partisan environment. Clashes on both sides of the political aisle are obstructing collaboration and consensus building that could restore access to the American Dream for all children

Economic opportunity is one of the most crucial issues of this election. It is an Achilles heel that threatens America’s most basic philosophy — the idea that no matter where you come from or what you look like, hard work and perseverance will give you a fair shot at improving your life. The U.S. and Arizona must prioritize closing the opportunity gap in the U.S. and ensure that someone’s zip code is not the deciding factor of how far he or she can go in life.

We have the promise of a brilliant future — and the success of young Latinos will ensure that we can fulfill that promise. But first, we must fix the systems and policies that are keeping this important population from entering the workforce educated, healthy, safe and ready to take on the challenges of the future.

The Summit’s goal is to ensure that public policies and  initiatives address the complex set of interconnected issues facing young Latinos, which include the impact of poverty, language barriers, education, health, safety, immigration that affects total families and assure that their economic status and their future is not jeopardized by lack of political will. It is an undertaking that has a sense of urgency and cannot continue to be an afterthought.

Olga Aros is summit chair, National Latino Children’s Summit.

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