Clovis Unified School District will be holding its annual Latino Student Success Conference (LSSC) for middle and high school students on Monday, March 22, at 1 p.m.
Spearheaded by Lead Student Relations Liaison at Clovis West High School Richard Delgado and supported by Community Relations Coordinator Saul Salinas since 2013, the LSSC is one of many conferences the district organizes to promote diversity and equity within its student body.
According to 2019-2020 statistics, Hispanic students comprise 39% of the total demographics in CUSD. The number of students in the district is nearly 20,000.
The main goal of the LSSC is for students to feel empowered and engage with influential Latino leaders with similar backgrounds to them.
“Students have to see individuals in positions of authority and success,” Salinas said. “‘Hey, I do see myself as a doctor, lawyer, engineer, reporter, writer,’ and then maybe that will spark that interest and say, ‘I could be that because I see that.’”
A great deal of effort goes into organizing the conference, with preparation beginning in September as Delgado begins contacting his committee, volunteers and mentors.
This year’s event is slightly different, as the event will be held virtually for the first time due to COVID-19 restrictions. The virtual setting has led to added pressure on Delgado’s shoulders.
“I’m at the point where I’m ready to pull my hair out, just because I’m nervous. Some sleepless nights this week, just because we’re not used to doing this virtually,” Delgado said.
Delgado has planned a full slate for Monday’s event, including numerous breakout sessions that will have students learn from professionals and discuss Latino/a/x socio-emotional support and social justice awareness.
A wide array of prizes will be dispersed to attendees like gift cards, Nintendo Switches, Airpods, and a TV, among other things.
Dr. Luis Macías, an assistant professor in Chicano and Latin American Studies (CLAS) at Fresno State, was chosen as the keynote speaker. His areas of expertise are social justice education, Latino/a/x studies and race and ethnicity.
The LSSC provides a sense of comfortability for the attendees by providing a family atmosphere, or as Salinas describes it, a pachanga (party) environment.
“It is cool to be able to be in an environment where these kids could be their authentic self. It’s okay to have an accent…to speak Spanish,” Salinas said. “We bring them to promote pride and identity…Having a sense of, ‘You could become somebody. Don’t fall into the narrative.’”
In turn, the atmosphere provided by the LSSC allows students a safe place to express their diversity, a shift that he and Salinas would like to continue within the CUSD.
“When you feel safe, and you could be your authentic self, you’re going to do your best work,” Salinas said. “We’ll [CUSD] create systems of inclusion [and] safe spaces for you. And the expectation is you perform, and that’s not very hard to understand.”
For the district to move forward, especially with Latinos, Salinas feels that the CUSD has to be culturally responsive because there is a ton of diversity within the Latino community.
“There isn’t a specific strategy. The biggest thing you could do is just get to know the student in front of you,” Salinas said. “Get to know the person for who they are, not what you think they are.”
Salinas says that the key to success for the district is to have an asset approach with students, accepting who they are, and listening to what they bring to the table. And he says that faculty are embracing this approach.
So, for the future, Delgado says he wants to expand the conference to bigger venues allowing for more Latino CUSD students to attend and avoid capping the number of attendees.
“I would like in the next five years, [to] not have to put a cap, just on our students in Clovis Unified…I have to tell each of my areas, ‘You guys can only bring 125 students,’” Delgado said. “That’s not even a fourth of our population in the district.”
And even further, he would like the conference to expand county-wide, which both he and Salinas were approached to do.
But for these lofty goals to be realized, it will take significant monetary support from the community leaders and businesses to make that dream a reality.
For now, the support has come from within the district, especially from predominantly white administration. Salinas says that events like the LSSC, the Asian and African American conferences receive a lot of support behind the scenes.
“White leaders have been totally supportive of this work, and they put thousands of dollars to back these events up. They just say, ‘Whatever you need, you tell us,” Salinas said.
Both Delgado and Salinas feel that coming together and taking action as a district will dismantle the perception that CUSD has regarding exclusivity. And for that action to happen, it takes all socioeconomic and racial backgrounds to be involved.
“I’m just opening the eyes a little bit more to our faculty and our district. [For CUSD] to see Latinos as an asset, not as a deficit,” Delgado said. “For some of our Latinos, that’s how they feel, they don’t feel that they’re appreciated.