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NWTC bilingual cohort program provides new opportunity for Latinx students

By Heather Graves

GREEN BAY – Having the opportunity to attend college is an accomplishment many strive for to help broaden career options.

However, attending college isn’t always in the cards for everyone.

“As bilingual, we speak some English, but sometimes not much, so sometimes you think maybe you won’t be able to do anything after high school,” Lucio Prieto, a recent graduate of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College’s (NWTC) bilingual cohort.

Prieto, along with 10 other students, recently graduated from NWTC’s newest approach to educating its Latinx students – a bilingual cohort program.

Lucio Prieto, left, and classmate Manuel Martinez each graduated from NWTC’s first bilingual cohort, both earning their industrial maintenance certificate. Submitted Photo

“We were looking for ways to increase our Latinx population student body,” Joe Barker, NWTC electromechanical instructor and one of the instructors of the bilingual cohort, said. “So, we had a roundtable discussion with former students who are Latinx to see what were the barriers that they had to come to NWTC.”

Barker said the discussion sparked the start of NWTC’s first bilingual cohort model.

“Everyone in there were all English-as-their-second-language students – so Spanish-native speakers,” he said. “We had current and former students come into every class night to serve as a translator, of sorts, to help with any technical conversation that I couldn’t have, or any instructor, couldn’t have in the process of that year.”

Barker said his role as one of the instructors in the bilingual cohort was that of mechanical instructor for five of the 14 credits needed to earn the industrial maintenance certificate.

He said what the cohort provides these nearly dozen Latinx students was a sense of comfort, as they were surrounded by like-peers.

“I had the pleasure of having them the first night, and then the very last night,” Barker said. “It was really interesting to see the difference in how they grew as a group. A lot of them came in not knowing anybody else in that group, and now they’re really good friends. So, it was fun to watch them kind of band together, and helping each other with their homework outside of class. They would come in outside of class and work on stuff together. So I think really that we helped them overcome one of the barriers, that they were just worried about the link which is going to be too big of a difference.”

Prieto said being part of the cohort afforded him the opportunity to further his knowledge base in order to advance at his current employer – joining the maintenance team at American Foods Group.

“We have a big maintenance team, and they just want me to join them now that I have graduated from NWTC,” he said. “And I’m gonna keep on studying. Starting Aug. 15, I’m taking robotics, so, learning how to just program robots and all that. So I’m just gonna keep on going.”

Already working 11-12 hours a day, Prieto said he wasn’t sure right away if the cohort would be a good fit for him.

“But once I heard about all the benefits of this program, I just decided to do it even though it was hard,” he said. “It was like a goal that I had. If you dream it, you can do it if you work hard.”

As an instructor in the cohort, Barker said it provided him an opportunity to reflect on his current teaching practices.

“Some of the vocabulary that I use, it is technical English,” he said. “And I need to teach technical English, but I take for granted sometimes what people already know coming in. So, I think that that was a big takeaway for me – changing my educational structure, I guess, to kind of change my thought process a little bit.”

Barker said it was also a lot of fun.

“I really enjoyed this group,” he said. “I looked forward to my nights with them. They really kind of shed a lot of light on myself maybe. I already appreciated their culture, but maybe I appreciate it even a little bit more even now.”

Barker said a second bilingual cohort will start Aug. 15 with a new set of students.

“It’s the same exact program, we’re just running out again,” he said. “We took some of the lessons learned from the first year and made some adaptations to it for the second year, so just trying to make it better. Trying to hone it. It’s never perfect the first time, right? We can always make it better.”

Prieto said he encourages other Latinx students to get involved with the program.

“I always tell (others), if I did it, then you can do it,” he said. “Just give the best of you. Try it and do it, and for sure you’re gonna accomplish it.”

Barker said the second-year cohort still has space available.

Interested students can get more information on NWTC’s bilingual cohort program by calling or texting (920) 498-6310 or emailing [email protected].

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