Victor Ruiz looks at the whole child to boost graduation rates among Hispanics

When Victor Ruiz took over as director of Esperanza, an organization focused on promoting academic achievement among Hispanic high school students and college after high school, things were pretty dismal.

In 2010, graduation rates among Hispanic Cleveland high school students hovered around 30 percent. Graduation among white and African-American students in the same schools was double that rate. And many Hispanic students were struggling to pass the 10th grade proficiency test, which they must pass by their senior year to graduate. “There was a lot of failure,” recalls Ruiz. “Students were just not academically prepared. Our youth were not being given the resources they needed. After a few tries and not passing the test, our children were just giving up and dropping out.”
 
Ruiz set out to change those numbers. Now in his fifth year as Esperanza’s director, Ruiz took a community approach to helping students not only make it through high school, but excel. “We looked at it on a holistic level,” he says. “We partnered with other organizations to address the whole child, not the pieces and parts. We work with parents and teach them about the importance of education and how to participate in the educational system.”
Victo Ruiz 
The approach has been successful so far. Graduation rates among Cleveland’s Hispanic high school students in 2014 was 61 percent, pretty close to the overall graduation rate of 65 percent in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
 
With the proficiency tests, Ruiz implemented mentoring programs to offer support and guidance. “We were able to identify students who have tried several times and gave them rigorous academic tutoring,” he explains. “They may have to try several times, but they are able to pass and graduate.”
 
Esperanza, which awards college scholarships as a way to promote academic achievement, awarded 103 scholarships in 2014, compared to fewer than 40 in 2010. “Our goal is to see an increase in scholarships in the Cleveland schools,” says Ruiz.
 
While the numbers are still below the national average, Esperanza and Ruiz continue forward, with a mission to only improve further. “It has to be a priority,” he says. “Education is community. It has to be a priority. On a national level we still have a lot of work to do in graduation and college. But we feel the numbers are continuing to grow. We welcome anyone to join us in our effort.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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