Hispanic high school students, particularly the daughters and sons of immigrants, have lower graduation rates, on average, than their white, Asian and African American peers.
But seniors at East Hall High School, through the Hispanic Organization Promoting Education, have helped lay the groundwork for a younger crop of local Hispanic students to succeed in academics and pursue the American Dream.
“It’s changed the lives of many people who didn’t think they could come here and get an education,” said Jennifer Grimaldo, a HoPe member who will graduate this spring.
The club is “dedicated to promoting education in everyones’ lives, but with a definite emphasis on the Hispanic community,” said Daniel Stainback, an East Hall High history teacher and faculty adviser. “The mission of the club is to increase graduation rates among Hispanic high school students through leadership, service and education.”
Stainback said the 80-plus member club, led by seniors, has “amassed 1,733 volunteer hours at various locations around the community” this school year.
The group has worked with the Georgia Mountain Food Bank and Good News at Noon homeless mission in Gainesville for example.
Grimaldo said many of the HoPe members, like her, are the children of immigrants and will be the first in their families to graduate high school and attend college.
And HoPe has empowered them to succeed and be models for younger students.
In particular, the group mentors elementary students across Hall County.
“I feel like they look up to us because of where we are in life,” Grimaldo said.
Janet Madera, a senior who plans to attend Piedmont College in the fall, said she wants to return to the high school classroom one day as a teacher.
Stories of seniors from each Gainesville and Hall school are collected in this class of 2019 section.
“A lot of high school students don’t know who they are,” she said.
And it’s something Madera understands.
“I was always kind of really shy,” she said. “I still am.”
But HoPe has given her confidence to lead and speak out and support others, traits Madera knows will make her a good educator.
Madera said she has most enjoyed working one-on-one mentoring elementary students.
“They are growing up to be better than us,” she added. “My heart just shines. It’s not about helping yourself, it’s about other people.”
Selmi Gonzalez, a senior who plans to attend the University of North Georgia in Gainesville after graduation, said the friendships and camaraderie among the HoPe student group have helped her mature these last three years.
“I also was shy,” she added. “It’s helped me speak out more.”
And, like her peers, it’s given her opportunities to serve the community in many ways.
“It has brought me so many good opportunities,” Gonzalez said. “There’s just something special that we’ll always have.”