Teach Latino immigrant kids Spanish grammar in order to help them learn English. Get Latino parents involved with the school. Give truant students extra responsibilities, like writing the student handbook. Engage businesses and the community at large. Teach English-speaking teachers Spanish.
These were all methods employed by Elia Dimayuga-Bruggeman, assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Education, when she was the high school principal in Sleepy Eye until 2006.
The approach helped raise the Latino graduation rate there. “It was in the high 80s and 90s,” she said. “I know when I got there, they were not graduating. They were dropping out.”
The Latino high school graduation rate statewide is only 50.5 percent, according to state figures, compared to the overall graduation rate of 76.9 percent. The rate for white students of 83.5 percent.
Schools around the state are looking to close the gap and some have had success. Northfield started a program called TORCH that employs personalized tutoring all the way through college and works with students’ families. MPR News’ Elizabeth Baier reported a story on the program that will air Thursday.
Working with parents is key, said Dimayuga-Bruggeman. “Latino students in Sleepy Eye were migrant workers. They moved around throughout the country and state. What I started to do was talk to the parents to tell them stay in one place so their kids could graduate. Mobility was not good for them.”
She also brought in parents to talk with college representatives. “Some parents might not have finished elementary school,” she said. “So we needed to train them on what the school system is about in Minnesota.”
Dimayuga-Bruggeman was born in Guerrero, Mexico. She came to Minnesota as a child with her family. Later, she returned as a foreign exchange student. She taught Spanish for a decade in St. James schools and in the mid 1990s, became the principal in Sleepy Eye. In 2011, she joined the Department of Education, overseeing education innovation and special education policy, among other efforts.
She still lives in Sleepy Eye, where her husband is the John Deere dealer.
As assistant commissioner, in order to improve Latino school performance across Minnesota, Dimayuga-Bruggeman hopes to bring some of the methods she used as teacher and principal to the rest of the state.
She’s working on collecting “best practices” from around the state, so they can be disseminated to schools across Minnesota. “Many schools are doing different things,” she said, including what she called “parent academies,” efforts to engage parents in their kids’ educations.
“When I was in Sleepy Eye, I did travel and tell people what we were doing,” she said. “Northfield came to Sleepy Eye to see what we were doing. That’s how TORCH came about. It’s the interest that you take and the leadership you take. I think in my role right now, I take a look at what I did. I know what parents need. We can develop programs we can use across the state.”