After three years of hard work, La Escuela Latina, a consolidation of Centro Latino’s eight education programs, is coming to fruition.
Currently, the programs are run in a room flanked on one side by a row of computers and on the other side by two folding tables. The free space in the room is not much wider than an average hallway.
“Right now, we don’t have enough room for all the kids,” Mary Knauer, education coordinator at Centro Latino, said. “Some have to sit on the floor or even under tables.”
However, thanks to a promised $10,000 grant from the Rolla-based Tom Sager Foundation, Centro Latino will be able to afford to pay rent on a bigger place for La Escuela Latina. The new space will be twice the size of the current one and is located below the Centro Latino office in Parkade Plaza.
With the new space, there will be enough room for all of the current students and those who are on the waiting list, Knauer said.
The motivation for the expansion is the burgeoning Latino population in the Columbia area. According to the Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis, the Latino population of Boone County almost doubled from 1990 to 2000, rising from 1,226 to 2,413.
“Due to the increase in population, Centro Latino decided to expand its educational programs and open up La Escuela Latina,” said Eduardo Crespi, director of Centro Latino.
La Escuela Latina will be the hub for the after-school program, teen tutoring program, English as a second language classes, Spanish language classes, computer labs, MU Service Learning Partnership, Latino Parents as Teachers Conference and the summer program.
The goal of La Escuela Latina is to provide a better service to the community as a whole.
“It’s going to be a place where the community comes together and educates itself,” Alejandra Gudiño, a Centro Latino board member, said.
Aside from educating the community, La Escuela Latina is meant to empower the Latino community and help its members live without having to rely on intermediaries.
The area being vacated by the educational programs will be used for social services and health-related work — meeting a need for space solely dedicated to those programs, Gudiño said.
Although the changes are steps forward for Centro Latino, the grant will cover only rent on the new space. It is projected that the yearly cost of the after-school program will be about $67,537, with about $13,940 already committed from grants.
“The big crisis used to be not having enough space,” Knauer said. “After getting that space, the big crisis will be not having enough money to do what we want.”
Supplemental funding will come from seeking out more grants and the weekly Spanish and yoga classes Centro Latino offers.
“We are also going to be writing more grant proposals and asking the community for help,” Crespi said. “Donations of computers in good condition would be appreciated.”
The lease for the new space will be signed Sunday, and it is scheduled to open later in February.
“Everything begins with a dream, and Eduardo puts it on paper and makes it happen,” Gudiño said.