LULAC's Commitment to Giving Students a "Head Start"

Posted on 04/30/2015 @ 12:45 AM

Tags: education, intern

By: Francisco Castaneda, LULAC National, Policy and Legislation Intern

Since its conception in 1929, LULAC has advocated on behalf of Latinos who have been marginalized on the basis of ethnic discrimination, as evidenced by LULAC’s mission to advance the economic condition, educational attainment, political influence, health and civil rights of Latinos.

I can attest personally to the benefits LULAC has offered many Latinos as I myself participated in the Head Start program birthed from the Little School of 400 under the LULAC Education Fund in 1957 in Ganado, Texas.

The Little School of 400 was an attempt to provide Latino children with a basic understanding of 400 English words that would prepare them to succeed in public schools. The program was very successful in helping increase the academic performance and educational attainment of Latino children who frequently fell behind due to a lack of basic English skills, in addition to discriminatory school policies in place at the time. The success of the program was so apparent to then-Congressman Lyndon B. Johnson, that during his Presidency in 1965, he decided to implement the program nationally as part of his War on Poverty.

Even today, fifty years after its conception, the program remains a critical service for low-income Latino families whose children attend underperforming schools in their respective underserved communities. This program also functions as a subsidized day care center with a primer in education, allowing parents to work without worrying about the safety of their children.

The Head Start program helped me and my family improve our lives in San Diego, California by providing educational services to me and my siblings and employment to my mother, who began working there in 1997. I started at Head Start in 1996 when I was 3 years old, and the program provided me with the necessary tools to succeed in school from kindergarten to my time in college.

Head Start taught me the fundamentals of early education, such as how to differentiate colors and shapes by their names as well as how to count to one hundred. Although I already spoke English, the program taught some of my non-English speaking peers basic English language skills such as vocabulary and grammar. This knowledge reinforced the lessons and material taught to me in kindergarten and better prepared me for my future educational endeavors.

Thanks to the “head start” that was given to me, I was able to excel in school and eventually attend the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), one of the top public universities in the world. As a direct result of LULAC’s continual commitment to improving the educational attainment rates of Latino children, I became the first in my family to attend college and will be graduating from UCLA in June 2015.

LULAC continues to fight for more educational opportunities for Latino students with its programs under LULAC National Educational Service Centers (LNESC). LNESC has sites across the nation that provide computers and internet access to students in underserved communities. Additionally, LNESC also provides support for students pursuing STEM careers and provides scholarships for high-achieving Latino students pursuing higher education.

LULAC’s legacy has touched many Latinos, including my family. With the aid of its members, LULAC will continue to fight for the civil rights of Latinos and their commitment will continue to advance the plight of Latinos in the U.S. I will always be grateful for the legacy of LULAC because it has positively affected my personal and professional endeavors, from my early years in Head Start to my current advocacy efforts as an intern at the National Office in DC.

Francisco Castaneda is a Policy and Legislation Intern for the League of United Latin American Citizens. He is currently an undergraduate at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, with a concentration in International Relations, and minoring in Public Policy. He is also currently attending the Center for American Politics and Public Policy Quarter in Washington Program where he is conducting his own original research on Black and Latino coalition politics in municipal settings.

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