Grassroots community organization Semillas held their first annual Latin Community graduation on Wednesday to celebrate 2023 graduates of Latin decent.
The community looked back on the ups and downs of the school year.
“We started the year off being called burdens, but look at where you are now,” says Kyle Carrasco, teacher at Hamilton County Schools.'
In August 2022 School Board member Rhonda Thurman told the Chattanoogan the increase in Hispanic population put a burden on schools, teachers, and taxpayers, sparking an uproar in Chattanooga’s Latin community.
She later clarified it wasn’t the students, but “the situation [that] is a burden.''
Howard graduates Emily Perez and Bryanna Simon are going to Emory.
They are the children of Guatemalan immigrants and they say this school year hasn't been easy.
“I felt like I was belittled on all of my accomplishments. And just after we graduated, somebody posted something about there being too many Hispanics at graduation," says Emily Perez, Valedictorian at The Howard School.
For some English as a Second Language students in the Latin community, the school year was just as hard.
Access to resources, like translators for ESL students, was a major topic of discussion at school board meetings this year.
“The school board's response is 'well, we have a system, kind of like hospitals, where you can call and ask for a translator.' We asked around, no one's ever heard of this line, it is not accessible to teachers or individuals who need a translator on the spot," says Mo, founder of Semillas.
We took those concerns to Hamilton County Schools, asking if they improved their translator resources.
We also asked what they have planned for ESL students next year and they told us that, because it's the end of the school year and the holiday weekend, they would not be able to get us answers.
It's resources like translators that Mo says will help get more of their students to cross the stage.
"Hold teachers and administrators feet to the fire and force them to do what's best for your kids," says Amanda Edens, a teacher at Hamilton County Schools.
Representatives from the Guatemalan Consulate were also in attendance at the graduation ceremony.
“She just really wanted to celebrate our graduates, speaking of the ways they're representing their countries here in the United States, embracing their identity as Latin X students, and also people that have grown up here in the United States," says Mo.