By Agustin “Tino” Diaz @TinoJrDiaz

College never seemed like a distant reality to me because I was backed by a family and community that strongly valorized it, even when they had never known the process here in 20160915_095425the U.S. For Latina/o and Pacific Islander communities, education is high on the priority list for their students, but issues like paying for college and becoming familiar with the college preparation process become challenging when the information isn’t getting to their community. At StepUpUtah we’re hoping to not just improve the flow of information to Pasifika (another term for Pacific Islander) and Latina/o communities, but expand our outreach as well.

Pacific Islander communities see close to 85% graduation rates in Utah high schools, one of the highest among communities of color in the state, but their college enrollment rate is only half of what it could be. For Latina/o groups since 2010 we have seen high school graduation rates from 55% increase to 72% in 2015, but the graduation gap continues to be larger than the national average while college enrollment is not keeping up with state growth. Reaching higher education proves to be a consistent challenge with both communities, one that could improve if information is distributed more directly.

Improving college preparation outreach among Latina/o and Pacific Islander communities comes down to engaging community cultural wealth. Community wealth involves building on the strong family networks already consistent with local Latina/o and Pasifika communities. This is done by identifying local people with strong community and familial relations, and working with them to organize committees to develop and co-create outreach practices.

StepUp recently took on a campaign for Pacific Islander and Latina/o communities to learn more about paying for college. After one successful year at Granger, Kearns and Provo High Schools where more than 1,000 people attended, the organization is now looking at hosting two events for Pacific Islander communities, one at Mountain View High School and another back at Granger High, and four bilingual (Spanish and English) events at Ben Lomond, Hunter, and Provo High Schools.

At StepUp, we’ve modeled our work along a community participation route where members of both communities are included in the organizational process, from barbers to educators, to parents, students–everyone is involved to help create these events. The important thing is that we work WITH our communities, not simply for them. As a result, our events are still about preparing for college but are accompanied with workshops that discuss a broad range of issues—all revolving around preparing for college—within Pasifika and Latina/o communities.

20160810_111425Because talanoa (stories) are critical to the backbone of Pacific Islander and Latina/o communities, we must distribute the college preparation message in a similar way. Students and parents, where considered appropriate, will be asked to share their narratives within the scope of the workshop assigned but also distribute critical information that tackles the foundational aspects of the educational process—it’s all about preparing for college, but we have to look at navigation, motivation, and long-term perspectives as part of the formula.

The process of working WITH communities towards educational completion and outreach is ongoing. On top of including Pasifika and Latina/o communities with our outreach, involving youth and parents holistically, where entire families are engaged as leadership and stakeholders is critical to educational involvement. If we truly want to see our communities in Utah reach educational achievement and find the means to do so, we must engage locally, listen, act, listen again, and trust our communities in co-creating outreach with us.

Agustin “Tino” Diaz is a Community Outreach Officer with the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority (UHEAA). Learn more about Tino and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.