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 The line that formed outside the Southwood Community Center stretched out of sight. Moms, dads, students, teachers and administrators gathered on August 16 to get a piece of the fun at the second annual Back-to-School Festival, an event designed to help Southwood families celebrate and prepare for the start of the school year. This year, the event’s attendance ballooned to an estimated 350 people. 

Much of Albemarle County’s rapidly growing Latino population is based in Southwood Mobile Home Park, which houses more than 270 Albemarle County Public School students. According to census numbers, Albemarle’s Latino population increased more than 200 percent to 5,417 in 2010, up from just over 2,000 in 2000. Statewide, Latinos now account for 8 percent of the population. 

Bernard Hairston, executive director of Community Engagement and Strategic Planning for county schools, says the event’s purpose is to connect “with families who may not be so inclined to visit our schools.” According to data from Hairston’s office, the number of Latino students in 26 county schools has nearly doubled over the past five years, from 575 in 2005 to 1,070 in the recently ended academic year. 

Gloria Rockhold, Community Engagement Manager with county schools and a native Spanish speaker, works as a liaison between Latino families and the school system. In 2009, however, a tight budget endangered Rockhold’s position as the sole connection to the Latino community. The School Board has since made her job full-time, a decision Hairston says was guided by the enrollment projections of Latino students. “We have seen a tremendous growth year to year,” he says. 

Cale Elementary has the highest number of Latino students in the county, with 148 for the 2010-2011 academic year, or 26.8 percent of its total student population. Rockhold says the school had to increase its classes, “because all of a sudden, its enrollment is much more than it had projected,” she says. The largest jump in Latino student population was recorded at Woodbrook Elementary with 20.8 percent this past year, up from 6.7 percent in 2005. 

County school officials say that, due to new federal race and ethnicity reporting standards, the number of Latino students may be a bit skewed. New regulations allow students to select their ethnicity as Latino and their race as white, potentially increasing the number of reported Latinos. 

Hairston says that the resources the county puts into the engagement of Latino families will pay off in the long run. “The greater the parental involvement, the greater the student achievement,” he says. 

Those resources extend into the community, as well. Rockhold works with local agencies that serve Southwood, such as Habitat for Humanity and Children Youth and Family Services. 

“I manage my programs with community partners,” she says. “If I did not have community partners and volunteers to help me, I think it would be difficult for me to do all the things that I do.” But Rockhold says there is never a time when the community has not come through for her. 

“I feel like the community really backs me up,” she says.—Chiara Canzi 

With more than 270 county students living in Southwood, the Back-to-School Festival there gave neighborhood families the chance to meet schools’ administrators and teachers. Many Southwood students attend Cale Elementary, the school with the highest number of Latinos enrolled. 

Cale Elementary has the highest number of Latino students in the county with 148 for the 2010-2011 academic year, or 26.8 percent of its total student population.

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