Nancy Arellano, 17, is not your average high school student. For the past year and a half, she has worked as a Peer Provider Health Educator at Vista Community Clinic educating young girls and women about everything from pregnancy prevention to parenting. Despite her busy schedule, she has managed to maintain a 3.83 grade point average at Oceanside High School and has been accepted to four universities, including UCSD and UC Riverside.
Amanda Cisneros, 13, is a sixth grader at San Marcos Middle School. She has a hard time deciding whether to become the President of the United States, to pursue an acting career, or to achieve world peace and has, therefore, decided to aim for all three. No slouch herself, her report cards are filled with “A’s and A minuses.”
Miss Arellano and Miss Cisneros are just two of the 15 Latinas between the ages of 12 and 18 to receive scholarships - $100 savings bonds for middle school students and $600 savings bonds for high school students - from the North County Latinas Association (NCLA), a group of professional women whose mission is to encourage “young Latinas to stay in school, graduate and be prepared for the opportunities which lead to a successful career.”
On Saturday, April 6, the NCLA will celebrate the tenth anniversary of its Adelante Mujer Conference at Palomar College in San Marcos. This year’s theme is: “Latinas communicating and educating, moving forward and taking action.”
Gloria Gonzalez divides her time between the public relations office at California State San Marcos and organizing the NCLA’s Adelante Mujer Conference. Having grown up in East Los Angeles, she worked her way up the education ladder the hard way.
“I have a lot in common with these young girls we are targeting. Although I graduated high school with honors, at that time we were not encouraged to go on to college,” says Ms. Gonzalez, who was forced to drop out of college for a period and work while her father was in his last stages of alcoholism. Years later, after marrying and having children, she returned to school. “I ended up graduating Summa Cum Laude from Fresno State with a BA in psychology.”
A 2000 study released by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Educational Foundation found that the high school graduation rate for Latinas is lower than that for girls in any other racial or ethnic group. The report, “Yes We Can: Latinas in School” also states that Latinas are the “least likely of any group of women” to complete a bachelor’s degree.
A June 2000 article in the North County Times estimated the percentage of Latino high school dropouts in North County to be as high as 55 percent, with Latinos making up only 30.4 percent of those students actually enrolled in school.
Nancy Arellano, like many of her peers, can relate to these statistics; however, she is determined to turn them around. Although the need for this struggle seems obvious, finding support to stay in school is not always as easy as it should be. The middlemost of five children, Miss Arellano is being raised by a Spanish-speaking mother who has “never once” reminded her to do her homework throughout her high school career.
“I have had to do this on my own because my family doesn’t really value education. Nobody in my family has ever gone to a UC school, and I had to do my application by myself,” says Miss Arellano, who lavishes praise on the teachers and employers who have served as her mentors. “My teachers helped me a lot, and they encouraged me to do better.”
The NCLA scholarship application emphasizes community service, and Miss Arellano’s work in pregnancy prevention and education shines brightly. ȁPregnancy affects the whole family. I remember a 14-year-old girl who came in and told me that she wanted to have a baby. Sometimes, reverse psychology works, so I said, ‘OK, you’ll need to come in for prenatal care twice a week; you’ll need a car, and oh, diapers cost this much,’” says Miss Arellano, who helps to care for her older sister’s children. “I talked with her for two hours, and she came in the next day to pick up birth control pills.”
Miss Arellano’s optimism is momentarily interrupted when she recounts stereotypes that most people have of Latinas.
“I don’t like people always saying that Mexican girls are the only ones getting pregnant. Yes, we have the highest pregnancy rate, but we have the lowest abortion rate,” says Miss Arellano, who feels that young women often try to take care of themselves, but they are surrounded by myths. “A lot of girls go across the border to get a shot, but they don’t actually know what the shot is, or they drink teas that they have heard prevent pregnancy.”
Despite her hard word and dedication to her community, Miss Arellano admits that she was surprised that she won the NCLA scholarship. In one of her classes, alone, 13 girls applied.
“I didn’t really think that I had a chance, but I realized that I was doing good work in my community,” says Miss Arellano, who states that she was as honest as possible about herself in her essay. “Writing this was really good for me, and I am really happy to have won.”
The other high school scholarship recipients are: Andrea Meza of San Pasqual High, Elizabeth Negrette of Oceanside High, Paloma Rocha and Diana Urbina of Orange Glen High and Karanne Tucker of Carlsbad High.
The middle school award recipients are: Patricia M. Benitez and Ana Rojas of La Paloma, Angela Castro and Marisol Solano of Lincoln Middle, Ariana Fierro of Hidden Valley Middle and Janet Perez and Lucierto Zavala of Del Dios Middle.
This Saturday morning, these young Latinas and an estimated 550 to 650 other girls and their mothers will join 112 workshop presenters and Keynote speaker, Maria Elena Gaitan, a multi-media artist, in exploring the world of opportunity. They will discuss topics ranging from mathematics, science and computer technology, to social work, medicine and personal goal setting.
To women like Ms. Gonzalez, helping to provide these young Latinas with a future filled with rewarding careers makes the long hours she volunteers to the NCLA worthwhile.
“Our objectives and purposes are to educate and support Latinas in their professional and personal endeavors, and in their lives,” says Ms. Gonzalez. “We believe we can do this by providing a network of mentors, programs and scholarships that emphasize Latina empowerment through cultural awareness, pride and celebration.”
To learn more about the NCLA visit: www.sd-ncla.org