Back to Episode # 21

Intro  00:00
Life After Now.


Liz Bolsoni  00:08
Hello and welcome to the Life After Now podcast. I'm your host Liz. I'm a communication studies major at St. Kate's. In St. Paul, Minnesota. This podcast is a place for young people like you to gather information about education, and think about what it means for your life after now. You'll be able to connect with inspirational guests who have firsthand experience and expertise surrounding education in Minnesota. So today, I want to introduce Theresa Lugo. Theresa is a high school community bilingual navigator at Austin Aspires, and she's here to talk a little bit more about the challenges facing Latinx students, and Latinx boys in particular. Teresa, thank you so much for joining me today.


Teresa Lugo  00:48
Thank you for letting me be part of your podcast.


Liz Bolsoni  00:52
Awesome. So before we start, we have a fun little icebreaker to get to know you a little bit more. And if you could share some advice to high school to high school you, or maybe words of affirmation words of wisdom, what would you say?


Teresa Lugo  01:07
I would tell myself, "Push yourself forward, do not give up. Do not let anybody misguide you or take you off your path. But yet, then again, those misleads of paths will make you stronger.


Liz Bolsoni  01:23
Mmhmm, that's awesome. So moving on to your experience as a student, let's talk about your transition from high school into college, and I know that you took some time off in between. What were some of the messages that you heard about taking time off from it, either your family, your educators, or society at large? And what was your actual experience like? Were they similar, or was it different?


Teresa Lugo  01:50
Yes, they kept telling me that, you know, it was going to be hard once you took some time off. And then it was not going to be doable. But honestly, yes, it was hard, because then I had my children. But it was doable. It's a little bit stressful, because you have to manage home, school, kids. But it's all worth it at the end, though.


Liz Bolsoni  02:13
That's a really positive takeaway. And that's a really good insight into your high school college experience. So now that we have some insight into, you know, your high school [and] college experiences, let's let's move on to your career, what you're doing right now, with Austin Aspires. Can you talk about the role that you have there as a community navigator and what that's been like?


Teresa Lugo  02:37
Yes, Austin Aspires is a nonprofit organization, and they've been in the Austin Community for seven years. But up until two years ago, they created my role as a high school bilingual commune navigator. And that was based on the data they had of the Latinx graduation percentage. And that was at a 33% compared to their other peers. And even with the Latinx girls, they were at 83%. So they were wondering, why was the Latinx boys, high school graduation rates so low. And that's how I became on board. And then we also have another navigator, Ellis, which is like a middle school. So they wanted to start a little bit younger than high school to kind of guide them through that experience and, you know, removing barriers for them to be able to graduate on time. And if not at least, like I said, remove the barriers so they can get to graduation and postsecondary.


Liz Bolsoni  03:32
Yeah. So aside from the statistics, and some of those numbers, what kind of got you personally interested or invested in the work that you do, and why do you feel so passionate, helping young Latinx boys achieve this goal of graduating high school and moving on to postsecondary?


Teresa Lugo  03:50
Yeah, cuz I myself was once a high school dropout. And I graduated a year later, and I mean, I wish I would have had the support that the students have now. Because then I would have had somebody rooting for me -- although I had my mom rooting for me -- but in the Latinx community, you know, if you don't want to go to school, then your other option is work. I wish I would have had somebody help me break that cycle. And that's what got me really passionate about doing this work, because I know it's harder once you drop out of school and then go back, because obviously you get into like the workforce, and you're making your money and it's like, "Oh, I like the money. Oh, well, it's just school." But honestly, I've graduating high school and going to college is a lot better for your future and better career-wise.


Liz Bolsoni  04:39
So just based on your own experience as a bilingual community navigator with high school students, what are some of the ways that you see these graduation rates reflecting in the young men that you that you help support?


Teresa Lugo  04:55
A lot of them, you know, are into like the new, hip, cool thing, you know, they see their friends having, you know, the new Jordans, the new iPhone, you know, and they're like, "Well, my parents can't afford it. So I am just gonna, you know, drop out of school and go into work and be able to provide for myself." And that's been like a big thing, you know, for these Latinx boys, their rate of graduation is so low, because they want to jump in into the workforce right away and earn their own money. So they can keep up with society with all the new things that are coming up.


Liz Bolsoni  05:31
Yeah, you know, and as you're mentioning, teen parenting, as being a factor that affects students, what are some of the unique challenges that student parents face? And I guess, if you have advice to current student parents, who, who are thinking about their futures, what would would you say?


Teresa Lugo  05:50
Yeah, definitely, what I've seen with the students that I've been working with that are two parents is the person that we're in the relationship with, once, you know, they got pregnant, they're no longer together. So now they're facing difficulties with the co-parenting schedules having the baby and on top of that they have to work. And not only that, but a lot of them, at first, we're not getting support from their families. So it was a little bit harder for them. And not only that, on top of that, they have schoolwork. So a lot of them were on the verge of, "I'm just gonna drop out and focus on working and providing for my baby." But as they look into more of the future of their different options, they want to be able to provide more for their, their son or daughter. No matter what struggles you are going through, that's gonna make you stronger. And don't think that you're alone, because you are not alone. There's always gonna be somebody that's willing to listen to you, and be able to give you a hand. You just have to find that. And always be willing to express yourself, it's not good to hold things back and think, like I said, you're on your own, because you're not.


Liz Bolsoni  06:55
And that gets into some of the mental health stuff that we focus on in this podcast earlier. And so how do you see that, like mental health as an important factor in the work that you do? Or what do you think high school students can be mindful of in supporting their themselves and also their peers in taking care of their mental health?


Teresa Lugo  07:22

Yeah, definitely. Mental health is a really big thing, like you said, because if they don't have that support, and don't have somebody, they are thinking, like, negative things. And they need just somebody to be able to support them. And like I said, some of these parents, depending on what culture, some of these parents think the worst of the situation, instead of be able to rooting, and that kind of just bring their mental health, you know, to a whole different level. There's a lot of resources in the community where they can get that support.


Liz Bolsoni  07:51
So after your great advice to student parents, are there any words of wisdom that you have for other students in the Latinx community who are facing challenges after a really tough year in school?


Teresa Lugo  08:07
Yes, you know, there's always a light at the end of the tunnel. So things might seem dark right now, but there's always going to be the light. Every obstacle you go through, you're going to be able to overcome it. You just have to keep yourself positive. And always look at the positive outcomes you're going to get out of whatever you are struggling with. And whatever you're struggling with, that's gonna make you even stronger for you to keep pushing forward.


Liz Bolsoni  08:34
You know, as you speak of positivity. I'm thinking about some of the positive impacts that your work has on on young boys that you work with. But I am sure that it also has a positive impact on you. And so, can you share a little bit about the most rewarding part of your job?


Teresa Lugo  08:52
Yes, seeing those Latinx boys crossing the stage and getting their diploma. That makes me very proud, because once they thought they couldn't do it. But anything is possible in life, as long as you put your mind to it. That makes me feel like a proud stepparent. It's definitely a proud moment seeing them walk that stage.


Liz Bolsoni  09:12
Yeah, we've talked a lot on this podcast about celebrating little things. And graduation is by no means a little thing, it's definitely a big thing. But even aside from graduation, like celebrate your teachers and and give gratitude or give things to them. I'm sure that you don't get enough things. So this is a thank you to you too, as well.


Teresa Lugo  09:36
You're welcome.


Liz Bolsoni  09:36
So is there anything else that you'd like to share about the Austin Aspires community or some of your values that Austin Aspires?


Teresa Lugo  09:46
Yes, I just gotta say it's been amazing working with them. And not only that, but really building the relationship with the students and getting them where they need to be. And on top of that, the community of Austin is a really great community because there's a lot a lot of resources for these students. For one thing that I didn't mention earlier, but the Austin Hormel has a foundation scholarship, assurance scholarship for students. So they get a free two-year college degree. So I mean, Austin Community is really good, supporting students in their education.


Liz Bolsoni  10:18
So as a member of the BIPOC community, you know, share a little bit about why you value education so much, and maybe some stories about the students that you work with, and why you value supporting them in their education.


Teresa Lugo  10:33
Because I believe, you know, education is a very important asset of your life. Not that, you know, working at a job that doesn't give, you know, that you don't go to college for or get some type of degree is not going to be value. But I just think having that degree and especially education is going to get you a lot better prepared for your future, and whatever you have in mind to accomplish. And I believe education is very important, because with a lot of the students that I work with come from different countries. And honestly, high school is their first education experience. They go from 6 in the morning to 5 or, you know, 7pm, whether it's in the fields, or raising cattle, from like, when you come to the United States, there's a certain age that you can drop off. So a lot of them are, you know, younger than what that age requirements is. So they come here with no educational experience. And it's tough on those students, because they have to not only learn English as a secondary language, but yet they also have to learn math, you know, which is, right, straight to algebra. And some of these students have none of that educational experience. So they're kind of like stuck. And some of them I've heard, you know, "This is not for me, I rather just go work." But then, as we get into the conversation, you know, looking at their different outcomes of actually finishing high school and then moving on to a postsecondary, it's like, "Okay, well, I see I, you know, will be beneficial to me." But a lot of them do turn their hopes down, because, like I said, it's their first educational experience. And being myself for my secondary language, English is hard. So I understand these students.


Liz Bolsoni  12:18
Yeah, thank you for, you know, the bigger picture advice. And that's what this podcast is about, you know, looking into the future. So that brings us to our last question. And, as you know, working with high school students now, there have been a multitude of challenges in the past year, including distance learning, and social injustices, and political unrest, just to name a few. So considering all of this, and I know you're coming from a little bit of an outside of Minnesota perspective, but what do you hope life after now looks like for students, maybe in Minnesota, but just in general, in this country?


Teresa Lugo  13:00
Equality. For everybody to feel welcome. No matter where you stand in educational or your background, ethnicity. It takes a whole village to complete one thing, you know, it's not just one person, it takes a whole village and I really hope that everybody feels they are as equal as anybody else. No matter ethnicity or educational background. Just don't give up. Because no matter what, you know, you're going to pull through.


Liz Bolsoni  13:31
And going back to the comment, like it takes a village. Yeah, looking into the future. Don't just, don't just bring yourself you know, try and bring people that support you and uplift you. Head into the future with really positive caring people. That's that's a really good takeaway. Again, thank you so much, Teresa for for sharing a little bit about your story and your work with Austin Aspires. And appreciate your time today.


Teresa Lugo  14:01
Thank you. It was nice being on here.


Liz Bolsoni  14:04
I just want to give a quick shout out to our listeners. Thank you again for spending some time with us today. This podcast is brought to you by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. Please dig into the resources we mentioned that this episode, which you can find in the show notes at our website Don't forget to follow this podcast on Apple, Spotify, Google Play or wherever you listen to podcasts, so that you don't miss any future episodes. Until next time, everyone. I'm Liz Bolsoni. Stay well, stay hopeful, and stay ready because you all are the future.

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