Juntos National Convening features celebrations, innovative ideas and networking

“One of the struggles that comes from being a Mexican-American is that you don’t truly feel like you belong to either side. We aren’t Mexican enough for Mexicans and not American enough for Americans.” – Arturo Torres, illustrator

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Ni de aquí, ni de allá

The words in Spanish appeared on a screen in the Willamette Room in Oregon State University’s CH2M Hill Alumni Center, where dozens of teenagers from 13 states had gathered to be a part of the Juntos National Convening in March.

“Has anybody heard this term before? I’m seeing lots of nods,” said Nayeli Contreras, who coordinates OSU Extension Service’s Open Campus and Juntos Program in eastern Oregon.

Translated to English, the phrase is, “Not from here, not from there.”

“You don’t feel like you’re a part of any group. You’re kind of in the middle,” Contreras said. “That’s why we’re here today. You’re not alone. You’re not alone in feeling that you’re not a part of one or the other. Every single one of you in this room has felt ‘ni de aquí, ni de allá’ at some point in your life.”

That message of togetherness reverberated through the building at the two-day conference that brought 70 professionals and 65 students to OSU for the inaugural in-person meeting of universities that offer Juntos, a college and career readiness program launched at North Carolina State University in 2007.

“We’re celebrating our quinceañera,” said Diana Urieta, senior director and co-developer of Juntos at North Carolina State.

The two main goals of the convening were for the youth attendees to both develop a national vision statement to drive the future of Juntos and experience a national networking connection to continue beyond the event, and for Extension leaders and professionals to embark on a new chapter for Juntos through the unveiling of the Juntos National Consortium, Urieta said.

OSU as host was a ‘statement’

Open Campus started Juntos in Oregon in 2012. Juntos (“together” in Spanish) is a multi-component program designed to bring Latinx families and educational institutions together to create pathways to higher education for Latinx youth and their families. The program’s motto is “Juntos para una Mejor Educación” (Together for a Better Education).

OSU was chosen to host the conference because it was the second university to offer Juntos, Urieta said. There are now 17 land grant universities that have been trained to implement Juntos, she said.

“OSU was the land grant university that made Juntos national,” Urieta said. “That’s one of the many reasons we wanted to make a statement by having it here. OSU has supported Juntos since 2012.”

OSU’s Juntos program is now the largest in the country based on the number of communities it serves, Urieta said. North Carolina State is No. 2.

“It was certainly an honor, and I was excited for the opportunity to host,” said Gina Galaviz-Yap, Juntos statewide coordinator for OSU Extension. “We are doing a lot of great things in leading diversity, equity, and inclusion work, not just in Open Campus and Juntos but OSU Extension overall. It made sense to host to not just elevate our Open Campus and Juntos story but also the story of OSU Extension.”

The first Juntos cohort had 12 families in rural central Oregon. To date, the program has served over 6,500 participants and is in over 35 communities statewide. In 2018, seeing the impact of Juntos on the university, OSU leadership matched Extension funds with general funds to greatly expand reach and support statewide push for equity in education.

By investing in student support, program growth, and expansion, Juntos in Oregon has maintained an over 90% high school completion and college access rate.

Hosting the conference allowed Juntos professionals at other universities to discover what’s made OSU’s program successful, Galaviz-Yap said.

I don’t want to gatekeep information,” she said. “What is working here can be adapted to work in other states. I hope they leave here feeling supported. We now have a nationwide team. We got to build relationships. The networking has started.”

Believing in the students

Contreras and her fellow Open Campus and Juntos coordinators led discussions and activities with the student attendees. In one discussion, they talked about the historical and current barriers to post-secondary education for Latinos, including racism and lack of information and resources.

Contreras said that most Latinx high school students have parents who didn’t go to college so they don’t believe they can go, either.

“Sometimes I feel like I see more in them than they will ever see in themselves,” said Contreras, who grew up in Umatilla County and holds two degrees from OSU, including a master’s degree. “They genuinely think they are incapable of going to college. That breaks my heart because I’ve been there. I want them to think they can do it. I want them to come to that realization a lot sooner than I ever did.”

Like Contreras, Andrea Flores-Reyna, Open Campus and Juntos coordinator for Wasco County, spoke passionately to the students about believing in themselves.

I see myself in them,” Flores-Reyna said. “I wish I would have heard those words when I was in high school. I would have told myself that I could do it. It just comes from my heart. Every time I talk, it’s about what my ancestors went through. My grandparents and my parents.”

By the morning of the second day of the convening, Melanie Toscano Escott, a senior at Woodburn Academy of Art, Science and Technology in Marion County, said she was impressed to see so many Latinx students from other states.

“I’m learning a lot about my identity as a Latine student,” Toscano Escott said.

Dayami Nava, a junior at Umatilla High School who is mentored by Contreras, summed up her experience with a nod to the future: “I’m learning about the opportunities that will come my way.”

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