"Because we speak two languages, we might find it hard to understand one thing or another," Mata said a senior at Overland High School in Aurora. "We have to learn stuff differently. We need help more."
In 2004, administrators with the Cherry Creek School District started to take a bold approach on the issue of race.
Dr. Elliott Asp is the Assistant Superintendent for Performance Improvement. He says if teachers want to find ways to close the achievement gap between Latino students and white students, then race has to be at the center of the conversation.
"To be able to take that head on has been one of the reasons we're starting to see some increases in student performance," Asp said. "So, if adults are little uncomfortable talking about race, so be it. That's what we need to do and we're more than willing to do it."
Asp says over the past five years, test scores for Hispanic students have consistently improved. He says the biggest gains are in science in math where proficiency rates have risen by around 10 percentage points.
"When you're doing two or three percentage points a year, that's probably not enough to get us where we need to be," Asp said. "But, it does tell us what we're doing some things right."
Dr. Robyn Duran is the Executive Director of Excellence and Equity for Cherry Creek Schools. She says a combination of changes is sparking the improvements from Latino students.
"A lot of it has to do with systems. It has to do with the classroom. It has to do with parent engagement," Duran said.
She says a major factor is having teachers establish a strong rapport with Hispanic students to gain their trust.
"Nothing can propel a student like the relationship that they have with the teacher," Duran said.
Mata agrees. She says a lot of Hispanic students are afraid to ask for help.
"We're not going to hold out our hand when we have a whole other 30 people watching. We're the only ones that don't get it," Mata said. "If you can build trust with someone, I feel like that's how it's going to make the student want to learn."
Fellow classmate, Brayan Molina says the whole school attitude towards Hispanic students has changed.
"When I was a freshman, I really didn't see it," Molina said, a senior at Overland High School. "The principals and teachers in high school and middle schools and elementary schools are getting more support now."
District leaders believe success in high school begins with changes being made at the middle school level. David Gonzales is the principal of Prairie Middle School in Aurora. Gonzales says the right attitude can go a long way.
"Expectations are high," Gonzales said. "We know so much about our Hispanic culture that work very together collaboratively. Our job is to ensure that they're as successful as we can make middle school, so when they go into high school, they go with the same momentum."
So, year-by-year, the Cherry Creek School District closes the achievement gap on paper. Mata says it shows in the classroom, too.
"I feel like it is working," said Mata.
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