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New 4-H program helping Latinx Murray High School students achieve academically

Murray Independent School District
Murray High School students participating in the new Juntos 4-H program pose with their families during an event.

A new 4-H program is helping Latinx students at Murray High School better their education.

The school announced earlier this year that the Calloway County Extension Office would implement and lead the program – known as Juntos 4-H – at the institution.

Juntos 4-H, which comes from the Spanish word meaning “together,” is a program specifically designed to help Latinx high school students do well academically, achieve high school graduation and gain access to more opportunities for higher education. The program also offers services such as family engagement activities, academic clubs, one-on-one success coaching and mentoring and educational summer programs.

Lourdes Oster is the English Language Learners (ELL) coordinator for the Murray Independent School District. She hopes that the program will empower local Latinx students, and their families, by giving them the resources they need to reach their educational goals.

“Latino families are very, very close knit. Support and security are the backbone of Hispanic values … so their parents attending and their [parents’] support meant a lot to the children,” she said. “With the program, we worked on taking away any of those barriers that could come between the families and their child's education.”

Oster said the school was a good candidate for the program due to its minority enrollment rate. Nearly 23% of the school’s student population identifies as belonging to a minority group, with around 7% of the total population identifying as Hispanic.

“We tried to work on everything from helping the children communicate to their parents, what they want to do with their future, and opening it up to the parents and the students as well, showing them all the different options and opportunities they had that they were not aware of,” Oster said.

The Juntos 4-H program has found success nationwide since its creation in North Carolina in 2007. Nearly nine in ten program participants say they feel they belong more in school. Surveyed participants also see significant improvement in grades and increased confidence in academic abilities. Those results are what led the local extension office to be among the counties piloting the program in Kentucky.

Calloway County 4-H Youth Development Agent Calyn Colston proposed the program to Oster in early 2023. After speaking with Oster, MHS Director of Institutional Technology Mechelle Morgan and MHS Spanish teacher Sarah Silvestre, Colston got the program approved.

“I want them to see that there are many options for them post-graduation,” Colston said. “I want them to see their options and not feel limited based on multiple different factors that influence their families.”

The school then held a family event night in May, where Latinx students and their families could learn what the Juntos 4-H program has to offer and participate in workshops on family and school communications, graduation requirements, post-secondary education options and funding for students. These were put on with representatives from West Kentucky Community and Technical College, Murray State University, the Murray-Calloway Area Technology Center and Murray Electronics. They were also offered assistance in navigating important school and community resources, such as Infinite Campus.

So far, Oster has reported that eight students across seven different families have completed the Juntos 4-H program.

These students now host monthly club meetings at Murray High School to continue their focus on leadership, community, and preparation for the workforce while aiding their classmates.

“We brought them all together, giving the opportunity for them to have those educational conversations comfortably and confidently as a community,” Oster said.

Both Colston and Oster hope the program will be implemented at other county schools.

Francis is a junior at Murray State University majoring sociology. They enjoy writing, music and video games.
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