How Latinos in Action is inspiring youth who are Latinx to find success and overcome challenges like high dropout rates, youth suicide, and more

Story, photo, and graphics by MEGAN CHRISTINE

“Our work is transformative. It allows kids to see that they don’t need a diploma to make a difference today or to be a leader today,” said Jose Enriquez, founder and CEO of Latinos in Action.

Enriquez

Jose Enriquez, founder and CEO of Latinos in Action.

Latinos in Action, or LIA, offers an asset-based approach to assist students who are Latinx graduate and succeed after they leave high school. It is offered as a class that students can take throughout middle school, junior high, and high school. Its end goal is to “empower Latino youth to lead and strengthen their communities through college and career readiness.”

# of LIA schools

The number of schools with LIA classes has increased from one in 2001 to 200 in 2019. 

Enriquez founded LIA in 2001. He began the first LIA class at Timpview High School in Provo, Utah. Since then, it has grown significantly and there are LIA classes offered in eight different states.

Enriquez said he created LIA because there is a “glaring need for it.” According to an article by NBC News, the Hispanic high school graduation rate is at an all-time high, but Latinxs still have the highest dropout rate of any group in the U.S. LIA students have a graduation rate of 98 percent.

The four pillars of LIA, the things the curriculum focuses on, are personal assets, excellence in education, service, and leadership. Enriquez created these pillars based off of things that helped him through high school.

“They were the little things that made a big difference. I want the same thing for Latino youth. A place where they can shine, develop, and lead without fear,” Enriquez said.

30:40:30

The LIA classes have a 30/40/30 makeup.

The LIA classes have a 30/40/30 makeup. This means that 30 percent are students who are doing well in school, students who take AP and honors classes and have a high GPA, and 40 percent are students who are “going through the motions” and have about a 2.0 GPA. The remaining 30 percent are the students who are learning English as their second language.

“When you put them together it’s magical. They begin to learn from each other and understand that they can do more together,” Enriquez said.

One of the four pillars of LIA is personal assets. The reason he included this is because Enriquez says that a lot of youth are increasingly worried about finding employment and housing. He also said that young people are being “sucked into a social media pit” where they are constantly comparing themselves to others.

“Youth are trying to find themselves in this world of heightened social media, heightened instant gratification, heightened pressure. You see this in the number of those with anxiety, depression, and suicides that are occurring in the younger group rather than the older,” Enriquez said.

Utah has the sixth-highest suicide rate in the U.S. with 22.7 per 100,000, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2017. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Utah youth ages 10 to 17.

Suicide rates in the U.S.

The highest suicide rates in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report in 2017.

“Even those who are affluent are going through these things, because depression doesn’t have a ZIP code,” Enriquez said. The personal assets pillar focuses on giving youth their confidence back. “This is why it’s important to have that social-emotional component, we’re going to give them the skillsets to be ready.”

Another one of the four pillars of LIA is service. One class will spend about 100 hours at a local elementary school tutoring young children who are learning how to read.

Ivan Cardenas, current regional program manager at LIA, used to be a teacher for the LIA class. He said his personal favorite part of the program is the tutoring piece.

“It creates this bond between the tutor and the student. He or she is seen as a role model, as an example for this child,” Cardenas said.

This act of service can be a pivotal moment for some LIA students, because some did not grow up with the culture of reading. “It’s a discovering moment for them. Many of them decide then that they want to teach. They discover a passion for it,” Cardenas said.

Tutoring these children can help LIA students foster a sense of a belonging in their community. Children have accessible role models to look up. Also, the teachers and administrators at the elementary schools get to see the LIA students in a different light. Cardenas said “they see these Hispanic kids as productive members of society. They’re doing something, they’re contributing, they’re translating. It’s just an amazing time of discovery for all.”

Students who are Latinx can face unique challenges while in school. Cardenas said there are “stereotypes these kids get in the hallways at school. That’s very real, and lately has been more evident unfortunately, due to the negative comments we hear in the media from our top leaders.”

Ashley Castaneda, 20, is a second-year student at the University of Utah. She took the LIA class while she was a student at Granger High School in West Valley City. She credits her experience with the program to her success now.

Castaneda noted that it is important to have a space where you feel comfortable and connected to your peers. She said that in her class, her teacher helped her and her peers embrace and take pride in their culture. They did activities related to Hispanic culture, like performing dances in front of the school. They were taught about role models in their community.

“That was my favorite part,” she said. “Even though it was helping us towards college, it also helped us embrace our culture.”

Castaneda takes pride in where she came from. She received more money than she needed in scholarships when she began college, so every year she goes back to the LIA class at Granger High to offer her excess money to them in the form of a scholarship.

“The whole point is to show people that sometimes we need to go back to our own communities,” Castaneda said. “A lot of students who are Latinx go to college and just forget where they came from, and that’s not what I want to happen. I want people to go back, remember where they came from, and use that to empower others.”

 

Resources are available, including the 24-Hour National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The SafeUT app is a “statewide service that provides real-time crisis intervention to youth through texting and a confidential tip program – right from your smartphone.”