In 2008, a Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership middle school principal approached Duke’s Office of Durham and Community Affairs (DARA) with a problem: More and more of his Latino students were engaging in risky behaviors, joining gangs, and otherwise setting themselves on a path to drop out of school and become disconnected.
As DARA staff reached out to other Partnership principals and to partner non-profit organization El Centro Hispano, it became clear that local Latino students, who comprise a growing percentage of the Durham Public Schools population, were struggling in both the academic and social arenas and that their families were generally disconnected from school activities and resources.
DARA and El Centro Hispano, in collaboration with local schools, launched the Enlaces Latino youth outreach program in October 2009. Enlaces serves fourth- to seventh-grade Latino students — at E.K. Powe, Lakewood and Watts Elementary Schools; Durham School of the Arts; and Rogers-Herr Middle — to build protective factors against gangs, teenage pregnancy, and dropping out of school.
Now that Enlaces is in its second year, the program participants and coordinators see the many ways that the weekly student workshops, monthly parent workshops, and new support network are having an impact on the students and families served.
“The Enlaces parents are more comfortable and interested in having contact with their children’s teachers, and they’re expressing a greater appreciation for the importance of education,” said Carmen Soto, one of two Enlaces facilitators employed through DARA by El Centro Hispano.
“Children are also bonding as participants of Enlaces,” Soto continued. “They encourage good behavior. If a friend is acting up, they say things like, ‘Don’t do that. We are in Enlaces. We have to be better than that.'”
With support from DARA Senior Program Coordinator Channa Pickett, Soto and her colleague Ivan Almonte develop the curriculum for and coordinate the student and parent workshops, which are held in the schools. Soto and Almonte also have become trusted points of contact, not only for parents seeking information about school policies or resources, but also for the teachers and staff who themselves are learning the best ways to reach out to Enlaces students and families.
Maria, the mother of an Enlaces student at Rogers-Herr, said the parent workshops and the support of Enlaces staff have made a big difference for her family.
“The meetings help me relate to and have more conversations with my son,” she said. “I’ve learned how to create a good studying environment at home, and I feel more connected with my son’s teachers.”
Enlaces is a unique outreach model in that the coordinators strive to take a holistic approach to meeting the needs of families and students served, linking them to existing school and community resources. And though it was the first program of its kind for Duke’s Office of Durham and Regional Affairs, the Office’s long-standing connections to the local schools and to El Centro Hispano were key to the program’s development and success.
“We are proud of Enlaces not only because of the essential services it provides to Latino families in our public schools, and its potential as a scalable model,” said Phail Wynn Jr., Duke Vice President for Durham and Community Affairs. “We also see Enlaces as an example of the great things that can happen when Duke plays the role of facilitator between local schools, non-profit organizations and community leaders.”