RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Graduation rates for Virginia’s Hispanic students are among the lowest in the commonwealth, leaving questions about the source of this disparity and what’s being done to improve it.

According to Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) data for the Class of 2022, Richmond City Public Schools (RPS) had the lowest on-time graduation rate in the state for its Hispanic students. The school division experienced a 13.5% decrease in this rate from the previous academic year, according to a recent School Board presentation.

“Whether it’s this group or another group or just students, generally speaking, our goal is for all students to graduate with the skills that they need to be life ready,” Henrico County Public Schools Director of High School Education Dr. Thomas Ferrell, Jr., said. “If any student doesn’t graduate on time, I think, as a county, we should all be concerned and give some thought and consideration to what we can do to support students and families.”

The on-time graduation rate for Henrico County Public Schools’ Latino students is also lower than that of any other ethnic group in its student body.

The data by school division for the Class of 2022 is as follows:

During an October School Board meeting, RPS officials reviewed student and teacher surveys from George Wythe High School, which had the highest dropout rate in the 2021-22 academic year.

According to the presentation, teachers who were interviewed cited chronic absenteeism, culture gaps and a lack of instructional, social, emotional and bilingual resources as factors in the on-time graduation rate for Latinos. Meanwhile, students who were surveyed noted that their parents wanted to be more involved, but were constrained due to work schedules and a lack of bilingual support.

To address this disparity, school leaders said they would be connecting families to bilingual mental health supports, and orienting newcomer families to the U.S. educational system. The presentation also noted that the school division would be embedding year-round bilingual tutors in call classrooms to support instruction and test preparation.

Similarly, in Henrico County, Ferrell told 8News that the school division was piloting a newcomer program at J.R. Tucker High School.

“These students have resumed school later in their teenage years and, in many cases, very close to 18 years of age,” he said. “The goal here is to work to increase credit accumulation and also a language proficiency, in addition to providing additional supports through a designated school counselor who will help with emotional support and instruction.”

Ferrell also cited the coronavirus pandemic as a factor in the school division’s lower on-time graduation rate for Latino students.

“What we’ve seen as a result of the pandemic is we’re experiencing more families who have financial hardships, who have been displaced and things of that nature,” he said. “I know the data says that, around the country, it’s really hit the Hispanic population the hardest. But we’ve seen some challenges with many of our populations in Henrico County and in other parts of the country.”

Although on-time graduation rates for Hispanic students throughout the commonwealth are among the lowest for all ethnic groups, there are other data points that VDOE considers, such as those students who are economically disadvantaged, english learners or homeless.

That data for the Class of 2022 is below:

  • Chesterfield County Public Schools
    • Economically disadvantaged: 83.9%
    • English learners: 72.8%
    • Homeless: 77.6%
  • Hanover County Public Schools
    • Economically disadvantaged: 88.1%
    • English learners: 70%
    • Homeless: N/A
  • Henrico County Public Schools
    • Economically disadvantaged: 84%
    • English learners: 56.9%
    • Homeless: 71.4%
  • Richmond Public Schools
    • Economically disadvantaged: 81.2%
    • English learners: 37.9%
    • Homeless: 89.3%

“Looking at our dropout data, there appear to be some language and engagement barriers for our multi-language learners,” Ferrell said. “Additionally, we’re finding that many of these students face challenges with being economically disadvantaged and, in some cases, maybe leaving school to seek employment.”

8News also reached out to Chesterfield and Hanover County Public Schools for information on what those divisions are doing to ameliorate lower graduation rates for Latino students.

Although a spokesperson with Chesterfield schools did not provide information specific to the Hispanic population, a release stated that the school division “will continue to target resources to help more students graduate in four years and to re-engage students who have dropped out through initiatives including graduation coaches and reaching out to students no longer attending school to help them re-engage with learning.”

In Hanover County, a spokesperson said that, in this year’s budget, the school division added two additional teachers to serve its growing English language learner population. That spokesperson also noted that the number of English language learner students has risen each of the past 10 years, and nearly tripled during that time frame.

“We’re working to find different ways to engage our families by doing things like expanding communication in more languages and in more ways such as mentorships, flexible scheduling and teacher training specific to certain cultures,” Ferrell said of Henrico County Public Schools. “We want all of our students to be successful and to achieve the goals that they’ve established.”