OSSINING, N.Y. – Shirley Acevedo Buontempo knows first-hand the hardships Hispanic students face with higher education, and now she’s reaching out to Ossining and all of Westchester to help students succeed.
Buontempo is set to launch a non-profit organization in Ossining that will seek to help increase college enrollment among first-generation Latino students. The organization, known as Latino U College Access, will host a reception and documentary screening at 7 p.m. Friday at the Davis Theatre on the campus of Westchester Community College in Valhalla. Buontempo said she finds the current college graduation rate among Latino students, which hovers around 20 percent, to be unacceptable.
“There’s a major push on a national level to increase college enrollment and graduation rates among Latino youth. But we can’t get there unless we help students navigate this complex process and give them access to the resources they need,” she said. “I’ve seen so many first-generation students studying at our local schools and getting an excellent education. But because they come from families that have limited educational backgrounds, the students don’t know how to take advantage of the numerous resources available to them.”
Buontempo is a first-generation Latina who emigrated to the United States from Puerto Rico when she was 10 years old. While she didn’t speak a word of English when she came to the U.S., she studied hard and became the first person in her family to attend college, graduating from Pace University. While studying for her master’s degree at Pace, Buontempo saw the difficulties her daughter had in getting the educational assistance she needed.
“While I was helping her go through the admissions process, I saw the inequity that existed right here in Westchester County between the access to those resources that English-speaking people have and their fellow Latinos who aren’t as familiar with the language.”
Several school districts and organizations, including the Ossining Public Library, the Ossining Central School District and a number of other organizations around Westchester are joining Buontempo in her cause. Carry Cubillos, who works as the Cultural Programming specialist at the Ossining Public Library, said the organization is “essential” for many in Ossining.
“This is going to be the biggest thing the Latino community has ever seen,” Cubillos said. “There are so many Latinos living in Ossining and Westchester who need this program. It’s going to be huge.”
Cubillos later added, as a Hispanic who had to learn English herself, the language barrier can be difficult to overcome. It’s a story she has heard from local parents dozens of times.
“I hear all of the time from the parents and the kids that they’re not going to college because they don’t know how the process works. Now all of these people are going to be told that they can do it because we’re going to help you,” she said. “They’re going to have something they’ve never had before and it’s going to open doors.”