A newly released OISE study has found that Spanish-speaking high school students encounter an overwhelming amount of discrimination in Toronto from peers and educators.

The report, entitled “Proyecto Latino Year 1,” was completed in collaboration between OISE’s Centre for Urban Schooling and the Toronto District School Board and is the first of its kind in Canada. The study follows an April 2008 report from the TDSB that suggested Spanish-speaking students ranked consistently among the lowest for achievement and standardized literacy tests. In addition, 40 per cent of these students did not graduate from high school.

“Developing strategies for addressing these challenges is a major challenge, since there is very little research about the experiences of Latino students in the context of either Toronto schools in particular or Canadian schools more generally,” said lead researcher and OISE Professor Rubén A. Gaztambide-Fernández.

“While much more research is needed, this report offers some initial insights about the schooling experiences and engagement processes of Spanish-speaking students in Toronto schools.”

The study included 60 students from six high schools across Toronto in varying socioeconomic backgrounds and levels of academic achievement. Students participated in focus groups, individual interviews, and a survey.

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Key factors that emerged from the student participants as barriers for Spanish-speaking students included: systematic issues in Toronto schools, the media, and work-school balance. While other groups of visible minorities encountered discrimination, the study suggests that the key difference pertaining to systematic issues was the lack of availability of proper levels of course work, primarily because of linguistic challenges.

“In this situation it’s not about what’s available but about the kind of decisions made or being made by or on [Latino students] behalf,” said Gaztambide-Fernandez.

“Structure of schooling ends up steering certain students into certain tracks…poor students and students of colour will be geared towards the trades and technical class and applied courses as opposed to university courses.”

The study also points to structural problems in the media as reinforcing racism and stereotypes, usually depicting gang-related violence as being a “Mexican” issue. Compared to the United States, there are also relatively fewer Latin American subjects found in the media.

While the students interviewed recognized the importance of education in attaining good jobs, the study found that these students often worked unconventional jobs to accommodate for their poor economic status, many working from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. and still attending school.

The study suggested several options for improving support for these students, including better support for new immigrants, peer-to-peer support programs, part-time job opportunities, courses in Latin American history and culture, and opportunities for students to recognize teachers with whom they have positive and encouraging relationships.

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