¡Con Ganas!: Richmond Public Schools program addressing Latino dropout crisis

Education

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Before joining Richmond Public Schools’ ¡Con Ganas! program, Yesenia Vasquez thought about dropping out of high school. Juggling school while working at a local Popeyes restaurant to support her family through the pandemic seemed impossible.

But after learning about the ¡Con Ganas! program, Vasquez decided to give it a try.

¡Con Ganas! is designed for English learner students who can’t meet traditional day classes because of the following:

  • Work-related needs
  • Child-care needs
  • Over-age and under-credited circumstances 
  • Other personal urgent circumstances

Students who are new to RPS and are 17 years and older, can choose to enroll directly into ¡Con Ganas! to start their high school career. Current RPS EL students who are over-age and under-credited can also choose to enroll.

Con Ganas graduate
Katy Mendez with a RPS ¡Con Ganas! graduate. (Photo: ¡Con Ganas!)

There is also an interview process.

“Are you here because you want to be here. Are you really in it for the long haul because it’s not just I don’t want to go to school — “I am going to try this night school. It’s I can’t go to school but I am interested in pursuing my diploma,” Ms. Katy Mendez, a teacher for Con Ganas explained.

Mendez is one of five teachers for the RPS ¡Con Ganas! program. The teachers are responsible for supporting students through online modules in Edgenuity, a learning platform students use to complete coursework.

“The students, they are just incredible. It’s insane. Yes, I work a full-time job. But they are also working a full-time job in addition to coming to class in the evenings but to pursue their high school diploma,” Mendez said.

Vasquez is one of Ms. Mendez’s students at Con Ganas and used to be in her English class at Huguenot High School before joining the program.

Vasquez explained to 8News that she started middle school late when she arrived in the United States from Guatemala during the 2013-2014 school year. At the time, she was also enrolled in English-learner classes to help her learn English. Little by little, Vasquez kept on learning.

When the school year started, Vasquez was working full-time at a local Popeyes and enrolled in ¡Con Ganas! After months of hard work to meet graduation requirements, she is now on track to graduate this summer from RPS.

Yesenia Vasquez
Yesenia Vasquez works at Popeyes full time and does her coursework for RPS in the morning before work, on the weekends and after work from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday when the program meets. (Photo: Keyris Manzanares, 8News)

There are many students like Vasquez in Richmond Public Schools who work to support their families all while trying to learn a new language and graduate.

In the 2019-2020 school year, RPS had the highest dropout rate in Virginia. Nearly 65% of the students who dropped out were Latino. Only 33% of Latino students graduated on time.

The Richmond school district implemented three programs to help Latino students. ¡Con Ganas! coincided with the release of the graduation data and this caused the program to grow quickly.

¡Con Ganas! is not a General Educational Development (GED) program. Students are still considered part of RPS and are held to the same standards.

“They have to complete each of the same courses they would in regular school they are just doing it through an online program,” Mendez said.

Vasquez said that without ¡Con Ganas! and the teachers she wouldn’t be receiving her diploma.

“It’s a good thing that happened to all of us. It has motivated us to keep working hard no matter what,” Vasquez said.

So far, four students have graduated from RPS through the ¡Con Ganas! program. At least 10 students are expected to graduate this summer.

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