Role Model Program

A role model seeks to keep Hispanic students in school (Asbury Park Press (February 16, 2009)

Richard L. Canas grew up a Salvadoran immigrant in California with a dream of working in law enforcement. He went to college and became a police officer. Today, he heads New Jersey’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.Canas is a role model to any teen wondering whether college is the right path to pursue, but for Hispanic students, he serves a larger purpose. Hispanic students, who are dropping out of school at a greater rate than their non-Hispanic peers, are able to relate better to someone like Canas.
That’s why HISPA, a national nonprofit organization, has been working to provide professional Hispanic role models for students. HISPA — Hispanics Inspiring Students’ Performance and Achievement — encourages educational growth by sending role models into the classrooms of school districts with a 50 percent or higher Hispanic student population.
The latest numbers report a 4.3 percent dropout rate for Hispanic students statewide, rising from 3.8 percent in 2005-06.
The purpose of bringing speakers like Canas into schools, HISPA President Ivonne Diaz-Claisse of Freehold explained, is to slow dropout rates by showing students living proof that they can succeed in life if they make their education a priority.
HISPA has visited districts statewide on a monthly or bimonthly basis. The districts include Perth Amboy, Summit, West New York and Red Bank.
In Red Bank, where Canas made his first stop Jan. 30, HISPA works in partnership with the district’s new Advancement Via Individual Determination program, which tries to help students enhance their self-esteem, realize their college potential, accelerate their learning and begin planning for college, while still in middle school.
Nearly two-thirds of the students in Red Bank’s schools in 2007-08 were Hispanic.
At Red Bank Regional High School, 16.4 percent of the students were Hispanic.
“HISPA further supports our initiative of creating a college-going culture in children in our middle school,” Red Bank Superintendent Laura Morana said.
Canas offered several bits of advice to the students to remember not only in school, but in life: Be a good listener. Be polite and friendly to everyone you meet. And try to find a career doing something you really love.
“Formal education isn’t something for everyone, but learning you will do until you die,” he said. “Learn like you will live forever.”
Diaz-Claisse said that one of the reasons HISPA is able to function despite a small staff and minimal funding is the networking the group has been able to do with other Hispanic organizations that have similar goals.
HISPA has worked with such groups as the National Society of Hispanic MBAs, Hudson County-based Save Latin America’s Reaching Our Dreams Program and Summit’s YMCA Latino Leadership Institute.
HISPA is working to expand into more districts and to create a program in which the role models work more closely with students.
Diaz-Claisse said the group is seeking funding to expand their programs. It currently receives support and donations from a small group of sponsors.

Additional Facts


The organization’s full name is Hispanics Inspiring Students’ Performance and Achievement.
Formed in 1984 as the Hispanic Association of AT&T Employees, the group’s primary focus was Hispanic and Latino employee development, and providing community outreach.
The group became independent of AT&T after the 2006 merger of SBC and AT&T, by which time HISPA was accepting members from outside the company.
HISPA’s and SBC’s Hispanic Employee Initiated Organization memberships united to form AT&T HACEMOS, while HISPA changed its primary focus to reducing the dropout rates and encouraging educational growth among Hispanic students.
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