Encuentros Academy Helps Put Latinos on Path to Teaching
By Eric Breier
Robert Rivas always asks the boys who attend his Encuentros Leadership Academy what they’re going to do with their college degree.
Among the common responses are pursuing a career as a lawyer, doctor or engineer.
But one profession has been noticeably absent every time he asks the question.
“Not once did I hear a young man – and this is nearly 400 boys put through the program – ever say, ‘I want to be a teacher,’ ” said Rivas, who founded Encuentros Leadership in 2003 to address the critical educational, social and economic issues impacting the quality of education and life opportunities for Latino boys.
About three years ago, Rivas finally asked why none of them wanted to be a teacher. One of the boys raised his hand and said, “Mr. Rivas, why would I want to go back to a place that doesn’t want me?”
“It blew me away,” Rivas said. “But what really hit me is that I felt that way graduating from high school, too.”
Rivas is on a mission to change that feeling and help more Latino males opt for a teaching career. Rivas worked with Pat Stall, the director of Cal State San Marcos’ School of Education, to hold the first Encuentros Teacher Academy on CSUSM’s campus the first week in June.
A dozen Latino high school students from North County stayed in the Quad for nearly a week and had an opportunity to learn about becoming a teacher. The numerous guest speakers Rivas lined up for the week included Patricia Prado-Olmos, CSUSM vice president for community engagement; Ruben Navarette, a nationally syndicated columnist; and school superintendents, principals and other education administrators.
“We had some very powerful speakers who reinforced some of the values that I’m trying to develop for these young men to think about,” Rivas said.
While Rivas has been holding the Encuentros Leadership Academy for more than a decade, he had long been wanting to add a Teacher Academy.
About a year ago, he said Prado-Olmos invited him to a meeting that included community groups looking for collaborative opportunities working with young people in the area. Rivas met Stall at the meeting and shared his vision of trying to close the shortage of Latino teachers. Stall loved the idea and they quickly made it happen.
“It’s been a wonderful journey from vision to reality,” Rivas said.
Rivas visited the homes of potential candidates and talked to their parents, eventually recruiting 12 boys for the pilot program. Most were high school sophomores and juniors, but the group even included one freshman who convinced Rivas he was ready to participate now.
“What they have in common is they have committed to become teachers,” Rivas said. “They understand what they represent to Latinos, but they also realize they need to be great teachers for all children.”
Rivas is already planning on the Encuentros Teacher Academy returning to CSUSM next summer.
“We want to come back,” he said. “These young men feel very welcome here.”