The program "Mentores Latinos de America" (Latino Mentors of America), implemented in schools in San Diego, Los Angeles and Sacramento, creates relationships between Hispanic professionals and high school students to guide them in their future careers.
Rolando Moreno, a former football trainer in University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and alumni of Escondido High School, created the group in 1997 which nowadays brings together around 50 professionals, including doctors and successful leaders in the business world, to interact with students in schools.
Moreno, who owns a firm offering legal services, said that the need for this program became evident when he realized that despite their merits students had difficulty finding jobs.
"I realized that they needed skills to establish connections, and if this occurred with students of majority groups, I thought that Hispanic students would have even more issues," he added.
Moreno maintained that they worked with college students for about seven years before attending high school in 2002, where they have also established alliances with teachers at the schools.
In 1992 Moreno started giving speeches about social skills to UCSD students, but when they told him that this knowledge would have been more valuable if they had received it in high school, he decided to found the group to help Hispanics along with five other business people.
"Students today have higher connections with the media, but they still ask things like how many years are required to graduate, the way of life in college, how to adapt to this lifestyle, because among Latinos women for example are not used to leaving the paternal context or their parents don't want them to go far from home," he said.
Last December they had 30 high schools, which change every year, because there are not enough professionals who can visit the schools.
"That is our biggest limitation, finding professionals who we can be sure will be able to give good information," he said.
"Latino mentors meet with students from once a week to once a month either one on one or in a classroom, and they usually keep in touch with them once they have gone to college", he said.
Because Hispanic students usually lack role models, Moreno said, the presence of successful professionals in their fields allows to break stereotypes, especially in the case of schools with a smaller Hispanic population.
"The work of the mentors varies according to the area, in Los Angeles schools ask that they visit once a week in an area designated by the school to protect the students," he noted.
In other areas such as Sacramento, they only ask for lecturers at schools who are focused in helping with the search of grants, "because many students don't feel qualified, but there are now many more grants available," he added.
In San Diego there is a combination of both models, said Moreno, helping students who are interested, "we try to look for mentors with flexible schedules, because mentors are volunteers who believe that their time is important for the students."
Moreno said that to select the mentors, who are usually recommended by other mentors or professionals, they have a committee who interviews those who are interested, explaining the group's philosophy and the time they need to give, and they also need to pass a criminal record check.
"Every three months we talk to them to see what's going on and with the school to see if the work is helping," he concluded.
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