New Juntos 4-H program to support Latino students


Juntos is the Spanish word for together.

And Juntos is how Seymour Community School Corp. and Purdue Extension Jackson County plan to provide better educational opportunities for local Latino students to make their futures brighter.

This fall, Seymour Middle School will host a new 4-H initiative designed to support Latino students who want to attend college in the future but face financial, academic and social barriers.

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Juntos 4-H, an after-school program, will give Latino students and their families knowledge and resources needed for their academic success now and in the future with the goal of improving college attendance and graduation rates.

The program is designed to promote family engagement, improve the sense of belonging among Latino students and families in their schools and communities, increase Latino student success by improving attendance, grades and high school graduation rates and raise the percentage of Latino students pursuing college.

Throughout the year, students in Juntos and their parents will participate in family engagement activities, 4-H clubs, success coaching, summer activities, college visits and more.

Participation is voluntary, and the schools will play a role in recommending students who would most benefit from the program.

Latino students make up 35.2% of Seymour Community School Corp.’s student population, said Diane Altemeyer, director of federal and state programs.

Purdue Extension Jackson County has helped support that growth for nearly a decade.

In 2011, local residents Iveth Vasquez and Becky Bujwid started the county’s first Hispanic 4-H club, Working for Our Dreams, to support Spanish-speaking youth and their families.

Heather VonDielingen, Jackson County 4-H youth development educator, said the club has been active in the community and is always looking for ways to give back and make a positive impact.

“When the opportunity arose for Purdue University and the state 4-H office to apply for a grant to bring Juntos 4-H to Indiana, Jackson County was a natural choice because of the established relationships and commitment to serve the Latino population,” VonDielingen said.

In spring of 2019, VonDielingen attended training for Juntos 4-H in Florida, and in late May, Indiana 4-H/Purdue University received a $500,000 federal grant to start the program in three Indiana counties, one being Jackson County.

“We have spent the past year laying the groundwork for the successful implementation of this program,” she said.

Parent involvement is perhaps the most important component of Juntos.

Regular family workshops throughout the year will bring students and parents together with teachers, counselors and community partners to help families gain the knowledge, skills and resources they need to effectively engage in their child’s academics, make high school graduation a family goal and aspire for higher education.

Students will lead 4-H clubs to develop skills for academic success, community service, public speaking, financial literacy, leadership and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

A Juntos coordinator will meet with students on a regular basis to provide success coaching to remediate academic deficiencies, teach study habits and help develop the skills to prepare them for a successful transition from middle school to high school and then to college.

Participants will go on field trips to colleges and be eligible for the Juntos Summer Academy, a weeklong overnight event at Purdue University that lets students experience college classes, talk to college students and take part in STEM activities and leadership training.

Students who begin Juntos this year as eighth-graders will remain enrolled in the program through 12th grade. Each year, a new group of eighth-graders will be added.

SMS Principal Daniel Mendez said the program is a good fit for the school because of the multiple comprehensive layers of support it will provide students.

“A couple of barriers that some of our students face are knowing how to navigate the educational system and understanding the higher education opportunities that exist after high school,” Mendez said.

Juntos is designed to help students in both of those areas, he said.

“It will also help provide families with the tools necessary to help their child throughout their educational career,” he said. “We are truly excited about this partnership. We think it has unlimited potential to help support our students’ success.”

Information about Juntos 4-H was distributed to eligible students in May. Purdue Extension Jackson County will follow up with interested families when school resumes in August.

Any family interested in enrolling in the Juntos 4-H program can call 812-358-6103 for more information.

“We are excited to work with our community to wrap support around our Latino families in Jackson County,” VonDielingen said. “We are committed to giving every child a positive youth development experience.”

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