Maria Gonzalez helps teens excel with an after school program.
Back-to-school time for Maria Gonzalez means Friday evenings in a church basement, surrounded by 30 teens chattering in a mix of English and Spanish. She pushes them to excel in school, though she is not a teacher.
Ms. Gonzalez has assigned herself a mission: to improve the graduation rates and college attendance of Hispanic youths in Torrington and Winsted, Conn.
She fears that immigrant teens in Torrington and Winsted believe college is out of reach because they live in poverty or are unsure of the English language. So Gonzalez pushes these teens to succeed in school.
"Do something so you don't have to be stuck in a factory," she tells them. "You have the opportunity. Take advantage of that."
The problems Gonzalez is tackling might be newer to Torrington, where the immigrant population has grown recently. The national Hispanic high school dropout rate is 21 percent compared with the national average of 10 percent, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Additionally, students of color, those from low-income backgrounds, and first-generation students are less likely to apply for college or complete postsecondary education, according to the center.