Park City School District ramps up Latino outreach efforts | ParkRecord.com

Park City School District ramps up Latino outreach efforts

Latino Advocacy Team tasked with ensuring all students can succeed

The Park City School District recently hired Eric Esquivel as its Latino community relations specialist. He, along with Diana Sylvester, left, and Lauren Beheshti, are tasked with helping the district connect with Hispanic families and improve the education opportunities for Latino students.

Eric Esquivel sees plenty of reasons to be optimistic as the Park City School District charges into 2017.

Esquivel was recently hired as the district's Latino community relations specialist. As the head of a newly formed Latino Advocacy Team, he will lead the effort to reach out to the area's growing Latino population and help ensure all students in Park City schools receive a top-flight education.

According to the district, the Latino Advocacy Team's goals include: get Latino students to read at grade level in third grade; improve attendance and behavioral issues in grades six through 12; increase participation in extracurricular activities; grow relationships with community partners; make parents more comfortable in the school system; and improve communication with Latino families.

With a capable team by his side, Esquivel said he is confident the district can reach those goals. He said many people within the district have already laid the foundations for the work, and the advocacy team will simply expand those efforts and funnel them toward a common purpose.

"We had individuals doing outstanding work, amazing work, putting in hours after hours," he said. "But now that it's been restructured, I think it's going to improve and hopefully become a little more efficient and work a little smarter."

Along with Esquivel, two other district employees, Lauren Beheshti and Diana Sylvester, will spearhead the cause. Beheshti, the district's adult education program coordinator, will focus on outreach to parents and the area's adult Latino population. Sylvester, a preschool teacher at Jeremy Ranch Elementary School, will concentrate her efforts on getting more Hispanic students involved in extracurricular activities.

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Both said they are eager to build on the strides already being made. For instance, Sylvester, who is from Colombia, said she has watched over the last five years as more Hispanic students have joined her son on athletic teams. It's an encouraging sign, but there is plenty of work still to do.

"I'm really excited," she said. "Including the Latino community in all of the activities we have access to in Park City is huge for me. … I want to make sure they know we are all in the same boat. The kids are all eligible for all the beautiful programs we have here. I'm really passionate about it."

Even more heartening is that the school district does not seem to be alone in its call for greater opportunity for Latino students, Esquivel said. Part of his job is to work with outside entities such as PC Unidos, the United Way and Holy Cross Ministries, and he said all of those groups feel a large sense of responsibility to address the issue.

"We're all coming together at the same time," he said. "I'm very excited and very motivated. … I get out to these other groups, and they're just as motivated, just as happy and eager to get out there and help. It's a great time for Park City."

Forging relationships and open lines of communication with parents of Hispanic students will be among the most important undertakings for the advocacy team, Esquivel said. Many parents don't know how to navigate the school system, which is a problem often exacerbated by a language barrier. It's incumbent on the district to reach out and show those parents they belong in the school community and teach them how they can become involved in their children's education.

Showing parents the importance of being engaged in the school system would go a long way toward making Park City's schools places of opportunity for all students, Esquivel said.

"A lot of times they come here, and they see that we're one of the most affluent communities in our country, and we have a very good school district," he said. "And I think they know that. So, for them, I think there's a complete trust value that, 'Well, they're educating my kids.' But they fail to see their role in it and that they need to be involved in it."

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