First in Class
Bladen County became the first school district in North Carolina to offer an elective course as part of its Juntos program, where Latino students learn public speaking, leadership and other valuable career skills.
A few years ago Hope Derry, a migrant teacher for Bladen County Schools, attended a conference in Portland, Oregon, where she first learned about Juntos. During a session led by a program coordinator from Jerome, Idaho, she learned about Juntos and their “Train to Success” middle school curriculum. She and other participants formed a human train, standing shoulder to shoulder to maneuver from Middle Schooltown to High Schoolville, while encountering various obstacles students might face and the voices they might hear along the way.
Derry left the conference feeling inspired.
“I came away realizing that we really needed this program in Bladen County,” she said. “It’s all about helping Latino students and their families, and we have a huge population.”
Upon her return to Bladen County, Derry immediately got to work establishing a Juntos program in the school system. In its first year in 2018, the program only served juniors and seniors. Today it serves middle, high school and early college students in four schools across the county. The program offers one-on-one success coaching, a 4-H club, a summer school academy, family night workshops and other events. Tar Heel Middle School also boasts the state’s first elective course for Juntos students.
“I started building the course by looking at the 4-H curriculum that covered STEM-related activities and things that related to Juntos and to migrant education — leadership, service learning, public speaking, financial literacy — and then I aligned them with eighth grade North Carolina standards,” Derry said. “Some of that curriculum we already had aligned, and other parts we really had to dig deep and try to figure out how it all would fit.”
Leidi Zuniga Labra is a student in Derry’s class and serves as class president at Tar Heel Middle School. Her older sister is also a graduate of Bladen County’s Juntos program and has since gone on to college.
“Juntos can help you learn a lot, and you get to go and see colleges and learn about what you want to do after school,” she said. “For example, I want to study criminal justice, so when we took a trip to a college I got to ask questions about all of the programs there and what I need to do to get there. So, I really recommend everyone to join Juntos.”
In addition to helping students, the elective course has made the Juntos program — and Bladen County schools in general — more accessible for local Latino families. The elective course allows students to learn the valuable skills the program offers during regular school hours, while other programs continue to meet in the evenings and outside of school hours when families are able to attend.
“I realized a need for our bilingual students and parents to have an outlet and resource to receive information — resources given to not only better communicate and be more actively involved with school, but also to be better informed and encouraged about what options their child may have within higher education,” Derry said. “I continue to work for Juntos to build capacity, spread knowledge, inspire creativity and strengthen our migrant and Latino families and students who face various obstacles.”
Over the past four years, Juntos Bladen County has served more than 70 students, and at Tar Heel Middle School alone, 46 percent of the student body is Hispanic. Derry hopes the program can serve even more students going forward, but funding and volunteers will be needed to continue to expand programming. Derry is currently the only permanent staff member leading the program in Bladen County, yet is strongly supported by 4-H extension.
“4-H runs on volunteers and the same is true for Juntos,” she said. “The more you grow, the more you need help.”
If you would like to get involved with the Juntos program in Bladen County, contact Derry at email@example.com. You can also learn more about Juntos by visiting the website or by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.