*By Patricia Arteaga
**Thank you Anna Stewart for letting me use your account to post this.
For my audience, I researched working class Latino high school students. Now its a very specific audience, concentrating an ethnicity, and age, and an economic factor. Even with its narrow window, I wanted to focus on this particular subject due to two factors: first for my own personal and and highly related experience as well as the importance of this audience to museums’ endless goal to become more “diverse” in their visitors and workforce.
Why this Audience
A major talking point of museums is providing accessibility to audiences that have long been overlooked as visitors, especially Latinos. Now to concentrate on Latino high school students is to explore that realm of possibilities for future museum go-ers and even museum/cultural institution workforce.
Currently, this population that find themselves in the working and middle (middle) class have the largest high school drop out rates in comparison to Blacks and Whites[i]. They are exposed to more military recruitment in their high schools than college information[ii]. Even with college information, they have little exposure to those who have attended college, so the opportunity for a mentor or someone to navigate them through the higher education level is not present.
Most importantly, they are the fastest growing ethnic group. Census Bureau predicts that by 2021, one in four students will be Latino. In U.S. Southwest like Texas and California, it will more one in two students, thus half of the population, will be Latino. In these states, the future has already arrived. They are inextricably bound to the future of the United States.
Yet they are the least educated in comparison to Black and Whites. Of course, the levels of achievement levels have increased for Latinos, but that level is stagnant and drops off significantly in high school. Entering 9th grade, Latino high school students’ math and reading skills are about one year behind. However, by 12th grade, their levels have not caught up and and are at the same level as 13 year old white students. In the span of these vital 4 years of high school where students should be gaining critical skills, being challenged by opportunities for advanced level coursework, is not happening in the school that majority of working class Latinos attend. Educators cite many reasons for this:
- Lowered expectations for students of color (SOC)
- Growing income inequality and lack of resources at schools (such as arts and after school programs)
- Unequal access to experiences teachers.
Now isn’t education supposed to level the playing field?
What do Museums have to do with this?
The issues presented above are bigger and more complicated than any museum or its programming can do to ameliorate the situation. However, if museums are interested in catering to a more reflective US population, then this audience is a great start. Programming has to start when they are young and high school is the ideal age since they are:
- Exploring their personal interest
- Thinking about their future possibilities
A must have requirement, for me, is not necessarily about the content, but what the program provides for the student.
- Comprehensive support system (about careers, higher education, personal interest)
- Exposure to the different museums
- possibilities for a future (does not have to relate to a career in museum related field)
- Teen productions where they can take take ownership/produce something
- Ask them what they want to see!
What do they want from Museums?
Instead of wondering what museums can do for them, I went ahead and asked them. The students are from Anaheim high school district in California, one of the largest school districts in the state with a heavy population of Latinos.
The results where eye opening to me in rethinking how to approach this audience in becoming museum members. They do feel welcomed, they would spend money visiting a museum, and best of all, they want exhibits that reflect their own personal interest, not just based on their personal cultural background. In all, they are simply high school students wanting to explore what they find interesting.
What is being currently done?
Smithsonian Latino Center:
Youth Ambassador Program is a national program for graduating high school seniors that focuses on fostering Latinos in their potential in the arts, sciences, and humanities. While foremost a leadership program, the YAP also aids in exposing students to the various opportunities offered at museums and their future careers, through a Latino lense.