Kansas City organization focuses on Latinx representation in education

Daisy Garcia Montoya

Local nonprofit organization Latinx Education Collaborative (LEC) is working to increase and retain the number of Latinx professionals in the kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) education field.

Founded by CEO Edgar Palacios, the organization’s mission is to support Latinx students in their K-12 educational journey and increase their academic achievements by exposing them to teachers that look like them. The hope is that with increased representation to match current demographics, more Latinx students will be supported and therefore continue with their academic and professional journeys.

The vision for this organization came to Palacios during his time as a volunteer with Kauffman Scholars. Before creating LEC, Palacios was very involved with multiple organizations and nonprofit work. After spending time with Kauffman Scholars and noticing the lack of Latinx professionals in the education field in Kansas City, he went on a search for an organization that focused on Latinx representation in education.

With no luck finding one locally or regionally, Palacios felt it was important to create an organization that was dedicated to Latinx representation in schools, and proceeded to create LEC.

“It’s a passion of mine because I think the representation of our community is important in our schools,” Palacios said. “It’s important for our Latinx students and non-Latinx students to see that our community is present and that they have power in the education system.”

Data from the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) has shown that the Latinx population in Kansas City has increased in the last decade by 38%, yet Latinx representation on school boards or in education related professions are low. To work on Latinx representation in schools, LEC has three overarching goals: to assist and support current Latinx professors, get students interested in being teachers, and to collaborate with other organizations that have resources to help create a diverse learning environment.

In order to achieve these goals, LEC creates and implements culturally responsive strategies to help retain and recruit more Latinx professionals. Resources offered include networking opportunities such as Evolución, an annual professional and leadership development conference for Latinx education professionals, scholarship assistance, information about other organizations and their resources, and a safe space and support system for professionals to share their experiences as educators.

“First we try to support the already existing Latinx teachers,” Palacios said. “There’s data out there that says that Latinx teachers leave the field after one to two [years] of starting their careers in education, so it’s important to help and support Latinx teachers throughout their career and let them know that they are part of the community, are not alone, and are part of something greater.”

Ivan Ramirez, coordinator of the Avanzando Mentoring Program, a mentoring program for Latinx students at the University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC), said that for students thinking about joining the education field, being a part of LEC is a must.

As coordinator, Ramirez has often shared resources and information about LEC to students, as well as using some of the resources himself.

“If you’ve ever been a teacher and/or the only Latino in the building, LEC makes you feel not alone anymore because you know there is a larger network of Latino educators ready to support you,” Ramirez said.

UMKC students Victor Michimani and Daniel Garcia-Roman are among those students who heard about LEC through Ramirez and have used the resources to create networks with local professionals and to access professional development resources. Both students said that LEC is important in the community for its work in tackling the lack of Latinx representation in the education system.

“Throughout my entire K-12 education, I had less than five educators in my schools that identified as Latinx, none of those teaching a subject besides Spanish,” Michimani said. “It is crucial we support LEC since it is one of the few organizations looking to fix this issue in the Kansas City area.”

Although the current COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to host regular in-person network events, such as the Evolución conference and others, many events still take place online at https://latinxedco.org/.

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