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Mexican students have the highest dropout rate of any major group in New York City public schools.
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Mexicans are both the fastest growing and youngest major ethnic group in New York City, almost half of which are under the age of 25. Only 37 percent of the city’s Mexican population ages 16-24 are enrolled in school. Like many New Yorkers, we were struck by the high dropout rate among the city’s Mexican youth, as highlighted in a 2011 New York Times article.
A Community Service Society study released in March of this year, funded by Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation, cites high rates of poverty as one major factor for low educational attainment among Mexican youth living in the city. The same study recognizes immigration status and low English-language proficiency as reasons for first generation Mexican Americans dropping out. In addition, undocumented Mexican students, barred from federal financial aid, may feel that college is financially unattainable.
Through interviews with local educators, immigrant advocates and Mexican students in the New York City area, we learned of more factors contributing to the dropout rate. In the experience of one student, Susanna, lack of adequate support from misinformed teachers, inexperienced in how best to address the needs of undocumented students, made her want to drop out. We also found that schools often don’t know the best way to engage immigrant parents in their children’s education. Aléxandra Délano, a professor at The New School who studies migration and who is originally from Mexico City, highlights the poor state of the Mexican education system as another contributing factor.
There are currently a number of initiatives to improve educational attainment in NYC Mexican communities. At the New York State Youth Leadership Council (YLC), an undocumented youth-led organization, we spoke with Jacqueline Cinto coordinator of the mentor program there. Cinto explained that the idea is to partner immigrant youth with undocumented college graduates or college bound students of similar backgrounds, and provide students with the tools to continue their education after high school.
The YLC, Masa based in Queens, and Mixteca in Brooklyn, are just a few of the organizations providing services to Mexican youth and their families in New York City. Deutsche Bank recently announced the recipients of planning grants intended for nonprofits and schools across the five boroughs working to “promote educational programs in neighborhoods with large populations of residents of Mexican descent,” first described by City Room.
Also at the local level, students and educators we spoke with reiterated the need for Dream Teams, safe and supportive spaces for undocumented students and their allies to provide a successful learning environment for undocumented students.
In spite of the many initiatives working to keep Mexican students in school, there is still a lack of creative solutions for graduates when they are ready to enter the workplace. In addition, existing research does not provide adequate proof of how successful the various efforts have been in reducing dropout rates among Mexican young people in New York City.
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