LULAC's Project U-Turn uses grant to increase Hispanic graduation

Aug. 2, 2011 at 3:02 a.m.

A quote from Henry Ford became a $20,000 coincidence.

"Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success."

That was the mantra of Victoria's League of United Latin American Citizens, which for almost 39 years has worked to promote Hispanic education with outreach and scholarships.

This year, the Victoria council was the only one in Texas to receive an education grant from the Ford Motor Company. This is the first year the local LULAC has received the grant.

"What irony. This man said this so many years ago, and here we are using it, and here we get this grant from the corporation," said Becca Garcia, vice-president of the local LULAC.

The Ford Driving Dreams through Education grant was awarded to 10 LULAC councils nationwide that demonstrated initiative in reducing the high school drop-out rate among Hispanics.

The local LULAC plans to use its $20,000 grant to do just that in its Project U-Turn. The organization will create individualized student plans and will use the money for things like purchasing caps and gowns, buying IDs, taking kids on field trips to universities, plants and military bases, and providing a stipend for successful participants.

"Our intent is to keep them in school, to see what they need to graduate, in what courses they're behind, what courses they need tutoring with," said Garcia, who also is the coordinator for attendance and community initiatives for Victoria schools.

Garcia said LULAC aims to take action against a years-long trend in Victoria schools of high Hispanic dropout rates. Hispanics make up more than half of the district's population, but, until this year, the group had the lowest school completion rate.

This year's completion rate was 84 percent, 1 percentage point higher than the black completion rate.

Garcia's office is housed in Mitchell Guidance Center, which is where the grant will focus its efforts.

"It's all about building those relationships. I know it might sound cliche to some people, but I have seen that personally, working here every day with some of the most wonderful kids in the district who have made some bad decisions and ended up here," Garcia said.

LULAC will hire a teacher to tutor the students in their program, but organization members will also get their hands into the mix. Students participating in the program will be assigned LULAC representatives who will call and visit them as well as assist them on study nights and tutoring sessions at the alternative school.

Garcia said she's already had several students express interest in joining the program, which is open to students of all ages.

One 10-year-old jumped into Project U-Turn from the very beginning.

Sixth-grader Kaylee Gillig doesn't go to Mitchell Guidance Center, but she helped Garcia and other LULAC members write the grant.

"I said I would like to be involved because that would give me a better education than I would normally have, and I can go to college, I can get a good job. It's going to help me," Kaylee said.

After researching Victoria's dropout rates for the grant, Kaylee said she's excited to see how the project will help Victoria students.

"It can make that U-turn and then put (students) back on the good track. Go from a negative to a positive," she said.



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