Massiel De Los Santos (left) and Camille Marcos pose for a photo at Marcos’ law office in Boston. Thanks in part to the help of her mentor Marcos, De Los Santos has become an honor student, president of her school’s Talented and Gifted Latinos Program and a scholarship recipient with plans of becoming a lawyer. (Daniela Caride photo)
Six years ago, Massiel De Los Santos sat frightened and quiet at her desk at the Thomas A. Edison Middle School in Brighton. The sixth-grader couldn’t understand what her teachers were saying.
A Dominican immigrant, De Los Santos came to the United States when she was 7. Her family settled in a Puerto Rican community in the South End. Spanish was spoken everywhere — even in the classroom. She took classes taught in Spanish at William Blackstone Elementary School until she finished fifth grade.
“I didn’t have to speak English in school. I didn’t have to speak English at all,” says De Los Santos, now a 17-year-old senior at the John D. O’Bryant High School of Math & Science in Roxbury.
Now, not only does De Los Santos speak flawless English, but she has also become an honor student, president of the school’s Latinos Program and a Kelly Scholarship Award recipient with plans of becoming a lawyer. She bounces happily from table to table in the O’Bryant cafeteria, hanging out with groups of Colombians, Puerto Ricans and other Latino students, trying to integrate them with the school’s other ethnic communities.
De Los Santos managed to overcome the language and cultural barriers she faced without dropping out of school — one of the greatest challenges for Latino children in America. She owes her achievements in part to her own hard work and to her family, who always said she had to get an education.
But she also credits her success to her mentor — family law and immigration attorney Camille Marcos, 27, who is helping her get internships and plan her career as a lawyer.
“A great advantage to Massiel … is that I am able to create those opportunities that she would not have heard of,” says Marcos. “[When I was] growing up, I never heard of these opportunities.”
Mentoring has been playing an increased role in keeping Massachusetts Latino children in the classrooms and opening doors to career development. In the last 15 years, the number of children in the Commonwealth who have established a formal relationship with a mentor — a positive role model for them to mirror — has doubled.
“Research shows that [mentees] have increased academic performance and confidence, and [a] significant decrease of certain behaviors such as the use of drugs and alcohol,” says Richard Hines, manager of mentor recruitment at Mass Mentoring Partnership, a statewide organization dedicated to expanding mentoring programs through training and volunteer recruiting, among other activities.
“We want to pull out those talents and gifts that each student possesses and make them aware that they are talented and gifted,” says Joel Mora, who manages 50 volunteer mentors and 60 mentees at TAG PANAS. The program’s name comes from its mission — “Para Ayudar a Nuestros Alumnos Sobresalir” (Spanish for “To Help Our Student Excel”) — and the support it receives from the Talented and Gifted Latino Program (TAG) at the University of Massachusetts-Boston’s Institute for Learning and Teaching.
De Los Santos became a mentee a year ago. TAG PANAS matched her up with Marcos because she had shown interest in becoming a lawyer after watching her family and friends struggle with immigration issues.
After choosing to pursue such a demanding profession, De Los Santos explains, she felt she needed to get into one of the top public schools in the city. She managed to get into John D. O’Bryant, and once enrolled, she sought an extra push through the mentoring program.
When their relationship began, De Los Santos didn’t know how much she was about to learn from Marcos.
The two toured Suffolk University Law School, where they attended a class of 200 students and browsed books at the library. De Los Santos also landed an internship in the office of Christine Hughes, vice president and general counsel for Emerson College, through a Boston Bar Association summer program to which Marcos introduced her. She also got a second summer internship at Marcos’ office, where she did a bit of everything — from filing papers to learning about cases in family law and immigration.
Earlier this year, Marcos also helped De Los Santos win a scholarship named for former Mass Mentoring Board Chair Ted Kelly. The student says she will use the $15,000 award to pay for college education expenses and SAT training classes.
“If [De Los Santos] did not … have a mentor who nominated her, didn’t have TAG PANAS to refer her … she wouldn’t have gotten this opportunity,” says Mora.
Since TAG PANAS was created in 2004, 13 mentees have graduated from the program and moved on to four-year institutions — many with full or half scholarships, says Mora. The greatest challenge they face is the language barrier, he says, “especially for those that come new to this country.”
“So they give up easy,” he adds.(p2)
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