Metro Grant to connect Latino students with nature
Metro has granted the Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District's Nature and Trails Department a $70,000 grant to fund its Nature Experiences and Workforce Training (NEWT) program for under-served Latino students.
The program has partnered with Adelante Mujeres, Columbia Sportswear, Beaverton School District's Multilingual Department, the Friends of Tualatin Hills Nature Park and the Vose Neighborhood Association.
Kristin Smith, the interpretive supervisor for the park district's Tualatin Hills Nature Center, said the need for this program is evident. "Unfortunately, Latino audiences do not participate in nature programs, nor are they represented on staff, in equal proportions to census data," she said in a news release.
"People just don't know about the program so I think there's a lack of knowledge and a lack of understanding that we offer programs like this," said Smith about the low rate of Latino student participation in outdoor programs.
The grant is one of 14 awarded to community organizations as part of Metro's strategy to support racial equity throughout the region. It is also on par with Beaverton School District's equity policy which states, "in order to break the predictive link between student demographics and student achievement, the District must apply the principle of equity to all policies, programs, operations and practices and ensure all students have access and opportunity to high quality education."
NEWT is a two-part program. The first will include after-school and weekend nature-based activities and field trips offered to four Beaverton schools. The second is a summer youth development internship for high-school-aged Latino students.
NEWT is set to start this winter and go on for two years, ending after its summer program of 2020, with plans to apply for another Metro grant and continue its endeavors.
All four schools chosen to participate have an above-average percent of Hispanic students, with the average in the Beaverton School District being 24 percent Hispanic. The four participating schools and the percent of Hispanic students are:
n Vose Elementary School: 74 percent
n Aloha-Huber Park School: 58 percent
n Five Oaks Middle School: 38 percent
n Aloha High School:
Bob Wayt, director of communication and outreach at the parks district, said the linkage to Beaverton School District is important. "Our service boundaries are almost identical to the BSD boundaries," he said.
Smith talked about the challenges facing Adelante Mujeres, a nonprofit organization that has existing programs in the Beaverton schools, like the after school project known as the Chicas program. "One of the things, especially for girls, is there is an expectation that they help out at home during the summer so they're providing child care and supporting the family at home over the summer, as opposed to doing these outside experiences," she said.
To mitigate this, NEWT will offer a paid summer internship for teens during the second year of the program. Additionally, having the appropriate gear and being prepared to explore the outdoors is a barrier for some students. To address this, the parks district reached out to its partners at the Friends of Tualatin Nature Park and Columbia Sportswear, who will provide 25 pairs of rain boots and 35 rain jackets to students in the program.
NEWT has been a culmination of many community partnerships. A big contributor is Adelante Mujeres, which will provide their in-school and community connections that reach underrepresented Latino students and their families.
The liaisons for students and families interested in enrolling are: Leticia Aguilar, the Chicas youth development program manager; Noemi Herrera, the Chicas project coordinator/facilitator; Karen Munday, an environmental education program coordinator; and Melissa Marcum, the Nature and Trails volunteer coordinator.
"Capitalizing on their expertise enables us to do much more than we could do by ourselves," said Wayt on their partnership with Adelante Mujeres.
The Chicas program is offered at 17 schools throughout Beaverton, Forest Grove and Hillsboro school districts. However, this is a program that is a first of its kind with the parks district.
"They initially approached us about incorporating environmental sciences into that after-school program ... and so that's kind of how the whole thing came to be. They were looking for somebody to provide that content, so we are happy to provide that content for them," said Smith about the beginnings of NEWT.
The summer component of NEWT for Latino teens will be done through the current Nature LITE (Leaders in Training) offered by Tualatin Hills Nature Center and will be expanded to a two-year paid internship.
"The goal is to recruit at least six teens. There is not a max; we would take anyone who is interested," said Smith about Nature LITE.