October 2, 1996
By Yolanda Reynolds
Last Friday evening, September 20, a forum was held to discuss concerns regarding youth in Santa Clara County. San Jose Police Officer, Sgt Richard Calderon, moderator of the forum, explained that the hearing, entitled the “Latino Youth Forum,” had been called to find solutions to the problems causing disproportionate number of Hispanic/Latino youth to drop out of school before graduation and to appear in high numbers in the juvenile court system.
Santa Clara County Human Rights Director Jim McEntee said that it was San Jose Police Chief Lou Covarrubias who encouraged this public hearing. Last Friday was the first in a series of three such hearings to be held in the county. The second hearing is scheduled for Oct. 6 at Bishop Elementary school in Sunnyvale and the last meeting is scheduled for Oct. 18 at the Gilroy Senior Center in Gilroy.
Besides Chief Cobarruvias, the other major sponsors of the hearing are both political elected and appointed County and City of San Jose leaders. San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer opened the hearings and commented on the gravity of the problem where so many young people are cutting themselves short of the education, training and opportunities that could be theirs if they would only complete their basic education by staying in school and avoid the troubles that lead them into the hands of the law. Mayor Susan Hammer stated that the City and the County were committed to make sure that the recommendations resulting from these hearings “would be implemented over a five-year time period.” A written report of the hearings and the recommendations will be completed by Jan. 18, 1997. The report will concentrate on five areas of concern. These are: education, youth employment, public health, public safety and the family.
On the hearing committee were; Mark Linder, City of San Jose Deputy City Manager, Zaida Rivera, a recent high school graduate representing MACSA, Bob Gonzalez Jr., and educator of the Sunnyvale public schools, Gil Villagran of the County Department of Social Services, Dolores Alvarado of the teenage pregnancy department of the CA Health Department, and Alicia Mendeke, educator and East Side Union High School District Officer Administrator.
The meetings are all scheduled to take place between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.
A number of students spoke of the importance of work experience opportunities. They explained that the biggest differences between their work experience and their experience in a regular school was the respect and trust with which they were treated. Several of the students described the program, the O’Connor Career Academy, that is administered jointly between O’Connor hospital and the San Jose Academy, a San Jose Unified High School magnet school in down town San Jose. Paul Perez said that the Career Academy did two things at the same time it offered job training and an education. He is now a hospital employee. He explained. “they give individual attention, treat you like an employee and also treat you with respect”
Perez explained that this program was part of a program entitled, “Educational Options,” within the San Jose Unified School District. He said that there are two teachers for every 30 students and the program involves 1 to 2 years of work experience at the hospital.
Another young person, Olga Sanchez explained the importance of another program entitled, the “National Hispanic Institute,” which offers help and training on how to compete and what to expect when they go on to college.
Several young men spoke of their work in the neighborhoods adjoining Willow Street, where they are concentrating their efforts in diverting youth from gang membership and trying to turn them on to alternative activities, including learning how to use and enjoy computers. Jesus Gutierrez explained that he and his fellow members of the group, Universitarios de Corazón, wanted help from the City for developing a program in the neighborhood that would provide a homework center and also serve as a resource center for the whole family. For themselves, they asked direction from City officials in helping them become more focused in their efforts to better serve their community.
One young man, Jessie García, pointed to the need that “our own history” be taught in the schools. He explained that delving into the history of (Mexico and the Southwest) helped to instill pride in himself and his heritage.
Several school board members, Maria Ferrer of the County Board of Education and Maria Fuentes of the Evergreen Valley-San Jose Community College Board of Trustees, spoke of the need for the community to speak out in order to facilitate the needed changes that would erase the lack of respect, the overcrowded classrooms and dull curriculum that hamper Hispanic students.
This happened at a recent board meeting of the Evergreen Valley College-San Jose Community College District. Several members of the community protested the lack of teacher respect toward minorities at that college. They read instructor/teacher comments that had appeared on separate occasions in the last year in the student newspaper. Ed Coyne, a teacher in the police academy, extolled the “salvation” of Native Americans who would all have died of sexually transmitted diseases were it not for “White Europeans.” The other letter was from a math instructor at Evergreen Valley College, Ron Fisher, who, in reaction to news articles of the outrage over the Riverside beatings, wrote a letter strongly supporting such behavior towards illegal immigrants by deputies. Never that international human rights standards were violated.
The spokespersons, community advocate Sandy Perry and San Jose educator Daniel Reyes, reminded the college trustees that educators, in particular classroom teachers, have a responsibility to show respect to the students (they) serve and an adherence to the Nation’s pledge of allegiance honoring “justice for all.” They both asked that there be time set aside at a future board meeting for in-depth discussions of these and other student/community complaints regarding insensitive and disrespectful comments or actions by college staff. The Board promised to follow through on their request.
The trustees explained that the instructor Ed Coyne is no longer of the Community College staff.
At the hearings, last Friday, there we e accounts of poor attitude and improper behavior by law enforcement officials. Rachel Perez, a San Josean and member of the Human Rights Defense Committee, stated that the police treated all Latino youth as if they were gang members. She also named an ofﬁcer of the San Jose Police Department who, she said, bargained with young women for sexual favors to avoid being arrested.
A number of themes emerged as important elements in improving the education experience of students. Most often mentioned was, “lack of respect,” or as Maria Ferrer stated a need for students to feel that they could contribute to their community and to be trusted by adults to do the right thing. Students who were trying to reach for new experiences, such as, being the first in a family to attend college, needed mentors or a program that would help them find confidence and learn how to go about achieving those dreams.
In the Washington Elementary, and Willow Street area of San Jose, the Willow Street Business Association, Guana (the Gardner Neighborhood Association), the Sacred Heart Church, and Washington Elementary School Principal Al Moreno, are close to realizing their dreams by providing some of the very programs that so many young people last Friday night said would help to give support to young people and to provide them with a sense of belonging to a community that does care and expects the best of them. Hopefully the next two meetings will reveal that other successful programs have been
established in the County. It will be interesting to hear if, in Sunnyvale and Gilroy, similar accounts will be expressed or if the hearings will reveal radically different information from that shared at the hearing in San Jose.
The County Human Rights Commission can be reached at 299-2206. © La Oferta Newspaper.