Starting Young: Helping Latinos Succeed in School

At the Greater Kansas City Hispanic Development Fund (HDF), we regularly ask ourselves this guiding question:

How can we address key challenges in our community and create lasting transformation for the future?

After supporting Latino youth through college scholarships for more than 33 years, it is clear to us that to have a deep, lasting impact in the Latino community, we need to focus more of our resources on early childhood education. Because, to be frank, it’s difficult to reach college, let alone succeed there, if you don’t succeed in elementary school first.

In the Kansas City area, almost half of all Latino fourth-graders score below proficient in reading. The numbers for English language learners are even more concerning: nearly three-fourths have below proficient reading levels.

Studies show again and again that children who receive high-quality early education from infancy to age 5 achieve higher levels in reading and math, are more likely to stay in school longer, graduate from high school and attend a four-year college.

A recent study stated, “High-quality early care and education programs play a critical role in the healthy development of young children, particularly those in low-income households.”

To put it simply: early education is a key foundation to a lifetime of success.

And yet only 38 to 42 percent of eligible Hispanic children in Missouri and Kansas are enrolled in Head Start preschool programs, which indicates that Latino children are most likely under-enrolled in all early education programs.

As we work to ensure that all Kansas City-area Latino children have access to early education programs, we’ve reallocated our funding priorities. Beginning in 2015, 75 percent of HDF funding is focused on early education initiatives. A large portion is awarded through HDF grants for early education providers serving Latino children. Additionally, we’re honored to be members of the Early Education Funders Collaborative, joining together with nine other organizations to increase early education quality and improve access for low-income families and children of color.

We know that it’s imperative that we create access to early education for Latino families. But like many in our community, Latino families in Kansas City struggle to find and secure early education opportunities for their children. Not only are these opportunities scarce and expensive, but they can also be out of reach for Spanish-speaking families who may not be equipped to communicate fully with early education providers.

Recently we heard from a mom, Elizabeth, about her experience at an early education center that HDF supports. Her experience echoes that of many Latino families in our community:

When I first came to this country, I was looking for daycare for my son. I didn’t want him just sitting around and watching TV and napping, so I knew I had to do more searching. I found a real pre-K school where my son would learn in both Spanish and English. Not only has my son graduated and was ready for kindergarten, he has gone on through first and second grade ahead of his peers. Without the early schooling, neither my son nor my daughter would be where they are in school, and would more than likely be behind in all subjects, along with not having a good grasp of the English language. The school has not only taught my son and daughter well, it has also respected the culture and language so very important to our family.

HDF is honored to represent families like Elizabeth’s through our service as members of the Early Education Funders Collaborative, and we look forward to the day when all Latino families in our community can access high-quality, culturally sensitive early education experiences. 

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Mayra Aguirre

Mayra Aguirre

Mayra was named executive director of the Hispanic Development Fund in 2007, through its joint alliance with the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation.

Mayra received a bachelor’s degree in business management from Emporia State University and her Juris Doctor from the University of Kansas School of Law.