By James Pero
Just in time for national Hispanic Heritage Month, Mamaroneck schools have taken the spotlight after being lauded by the White House as one of 230 educational institutions who are helping advance Hispanic education and opportunities.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, Mamaroneck is one of only three locations in Westchester County that has been recognized for its concerted effort to strengthen Hispanic education.
“We’re proud of the work we have accomplished in providing opportunities for all of our students and in helping to close the achievement gap,” Mamaroneck School Superintendent Dr. Robert Shaps said in a released statement. “We’re thrilled to be selected as a ‘Bright Spot.’”
The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, recognized the 230 schools by declaring them “Bright Spots” among public education which have helped improve educational outcomes for Hispanic people nationwide.
Specifically, Mamaroneck has excelled in improving graduation rates—numbers which, according to New York Department of Education data, have increased substantially over the past five years—especially on the high school level. Data shows that between 2010 and 2014 Mamaroneck High School’s graduation rates for Hispanic students rose from 70 percent in 2010 to 91 percent in 2014.
Behind such a dramatic increase in graduation rates and performance amongst Mamaroneck’s Hispanic students are several initiatives, not the least impactful of which are Mamaroneck’s PALMS and PATHS programs.
PALMS, Post-secondary Access for Latino Middle-grade Students, was implemented by the Mamaroneck Free Union School District in an effort to strengthen Hispanic communities’ academic skills and provide learning opportunities to set goals.
PATHS, Program Alignment Team for Hispanic Students, similarly has aimed to integrate the Hispanic communities into the educational system by translating all school information into Spanish and organizing school meetings for Spanish-speaking parents.
According to Milan Bhatt, executive director of Mamaroneck’s Community Resource Center, formerly the Hispanic Resource Center, programs like PATHS and PALMS are especially important in the Mamaroneck community where the Hispanic population totals 24 percent, according to the latest national census data.
“We’ve been really pleased with the response we’ve gotten,” Bhatt said. “Our goal is to integrate the immigrant community…We do everything to make sure the Hispanic community is not left behind.”
Though there are a number of programs which Waldina Pineda, a ninth grade English teacher at Mamaroneck High School, said may be responsible for the marked improvement in Hispanic achievement, the Mamaroneck Scholars program, which she spearheads, is similarly doing its part.
The two-year-old program is designed to support disadvantaged Hispanic students “socially, emotionally, and academically” by providing after-school assistance, and according to Pineda, she has already seen students grow tremendously.
She said students who would have never considered college are now becoming the first in their family to pursue higher education, and the students who would never have pursued advanced classes in high school are now joining those programs as well.
“These are students who we know are capable of taking these higher level classes but who might not take them on their own,” Pineda said. “It’s awesome to see how far they’ve grown.”
Andrea Zanzea, a Mamaroneck High School senior who has been involved in the program throughout the past two years, can attest to just how important Mamaroneck Scholars has been to her education.
“We help each other out,” said Zanzea, noting that the program has helped her tremendously, especially in terms of Advanced Placement courses. “[Pineda] is an amazing teacher…She gives us the confidence and the support we need.”
But for Pineda, programs like Mamaroneck Scholars are much more than just improved test scores and higher college enrollment. She said the students are a reason to get up in the morning.
“They remind me every single day why I became a teacher,”