In the early 1980s, St. Thomas recognized the need to develop an institutional plan to improve cultural diversity on campus. One idea considered at the time was to develop a summer program for Latino high school graduates to prepare them to enter college. In 1986, it was decided that a needs assessment should be conducted first to determine the actual educational needs and aspirations of Latino youth in the Twin Cities. This assessment (conducted by Dr. Joyce Pederson of the St. Thomas School of Education, assisted by Larry Lucio and Ramona de Rosales) recommended that the college develop an enrichment program for Latino youth starting in the elementary grades.
In March 1990, the McKnight Foundation awarded a $150,000 grant to provide the initial seed money to launch St. Thomas’ Hispanic Pre-College Project (HPCP). Led by de Rosales, the first Academia del Pueblo after-school program was offered in the fall of 1990 to 50 children in grades one through six from the Riverview, Roosevelt and Cherokee Heights and St. Matthew’s schools in St. Paul. Based on a model designed by the National Council of La Raza, the Academia del Pueblo provided academic enrichment classes focusing on the improvement of basics of reading, writing and problem-solving. The program also stressed raising self-esteem and confidence as well as raising the educational aspirations and expectations of its participants.
The Hispanic Pre-College Project’s staff grew over the next 10 years to include a team of 24 full-time staff, teachers, teaching assistants and St. Thomas student volunteers. The HPCP’s scope expanded to include programming such as:
- Project Success (MAS): A program for grades six through eight that offered hands-on activities in math and science along with homework assistance and skills to succeed in school.
- Parents as Partners: A program designed to help students’ parents become involved in all phases of their children’s education.
In the same year – 2001 – that St. Thomas ended its funding for the Hispanic Pre-College Project outreach program, the university became a founding sponsor of the Academia Cesar Chavez, a new St. Paul charter school. Built upon the success of the HPCP, this pre-K through eighth grade school provides integrated dual-language instruction rooted in Latino cultural values.