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NMSU Chicano Programs event helps makes difference in lives of lower-income families

Years ago, Elisa Flores was forced to give up school after the sixth-grade because her family could not afford it. Today, with the help of New Mexico State University's Generaciones program, she is showing her daughter, Erika, that her fate doesn't have to be the same.

Jazlyn Lopez, a Berino Elementary School student, participates in an interactive industrial engineering activity in the Garcia Hall La Vista Learning Lounge. The group activity is part of the New Mexico State University Generaciones program, which is sponsored by Chicano Programs. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Generaciones is sponsored by NMSU's Chicano Programs. The Hispanic sorority Kappa Delta Chi also helps with the program. For almost 20 years, each spring Generaciones has opened the university's campus to fifth-grade Hispanic girls, and their mothers, in order to show them a world they usually aren't familiar with - higher education.

"It's wonderful to see the girls and moms inspired by what can happen," said Laura Gutierrez Spencer, NMSU Chicano Programs director.

The pairs - which sometimes consist of a fifth-grade girl and an older female in her life - go through a series of workshops focused on building self-esteem and encouraging the pursuit of higher education. Fears about non-affordable college costs also are dispelled.

"According to research, by fifth-grade, young girls need three things in order to succeed - high self-esteem, a relationship with mom and clear goals," Spencer said. "If they have these three things, chances are much greater they will not drop out of school and will avoid risky behavior."

Program participants are chosen based on certain criteria. They are members of low-income families in which parents have not pursued higher education, according to Lourdes Arias, a Mesquite Elementary School counselor involved in the program.

"When I have seen mothers realize while attending the program that they're hurting their daughters, and then develop a bonding connection, it has touched my heart," Arias said.

Participants in the program must have children enrolled at participating schools and then be chosen by the school's counselor. This year, Generaciones is hosting students from Mesquite Elementary School and Berino Elementary School in the Gadsden Independent School District

Flores, the mother of two young girls, has attended the program twice; once with her now 12-year-old seventh-grader, Fabiola, and this semester with her 11-year-old Mesquite fifth grader Erika. She said the program helps motivate young girls to study much more.

"When you come to the program things get explained and the kids feel important," Flores said in Spanish. "It's important to make the sacrifice and come."

After attending the program the first time, Flores, who was born with 10 siblings in Aguas Calientes, Mexico, said she saw a lot of progress with her daughter Fabiola. Before the program, Fabiola had very strong anxiety about attending school, but after the program things changed for the better and she later received Presidential Honors in school. Though, to Flores the most important thing about the program is showing her daughters a different future.

"I don't want my daughters not to have opportunities like I did," Flores said. "I want them to grow up and go to college."

Along with helpful workshops, Generaciones brings in successful Hispanic female speakers to show the program participants they can change their lives for the better, just as the speakers themselves did. Spencer said medical doctors, an industrial engineer and a district judge are on the roster of presenters. Arias said the speakers are an important part of the programming because participants can relate to them.

"It's so inspiring to hear one of the speakers describe how she studied for medical school while reading her textbook on top of the washer and holding a baby on her hip," Arias said.

Though the program is a positive step, sometimes difficulties are encountered. Arias said often times she has to make home visits and visits to fields in order to talk to parents. She also said fathers' reservations about the program, and mothers' obligations to their other children or jobs, can make it difficult for young girls to attend the program.

"A lot of mothers clean houses or stay at home to take of their children," Arias said. "Some of them volunteer and a lot of them have low paying jobs in the fields, or are dairy families."

Despite obstacles, some mothers end up receiving their GEDs and attending the university, while their daughters approach school with a different perspective.

"I want to see the things you do at NMSU," Ericka, Flores' daughter and an aspiring singer, said. "Generaciones is cool because you learn new things."

Three more sessions of Generaciones are scheduled this spring - April 21, June 1 and June 2.
This event is a part of NMSU's continuing outreach efforts. The program's goal is to help educate and improve the lives of the community. For more information call Spencer at (505) 646-4206.