Students congregate at Capitol to push for better education access

During the fifth annual Student Day at the Capitol, students of color championed better education access.

More than 1,000 students of color from about 30 high schools and middle schools across the state attended events Tuesday morning and afternoon at the state Capitol geared at getting more students into college. Student Day at the Capitol has been an official initiative of the Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network for the past five years, executive director Mariano Espinoza said. Espinoza said the initiative has grown su bstantially in the last few years. The networkâÄôs main goal is to improve immigration laws and to help immigrant populations through civil engagement and community organizing. Espinoza said only 20 students attended the inaugural event, but attendance jumps were âÄúunbelievableâÄù in the last few years. Throughout the day, the students participated in a college fair, a panel addressing college access for students of color and college preparation workshops. They also met with some state legislators. âÄúWeâÄôre trying to build a better Minnesota,âÄù Espinoza said. Approximately 100 volunteers helped run the event; about 80 came from the University of Minnesota. Spanish studies sophomore Riki Baker , who started volunteering at 7 a.m., said she truly enjoyed herself around the students and described the experience as âÄúvery inviting,âÄù in particular meeting the legislators. Espinoza emphasized that the event was a step in the groupâÄôs goal to increase graduation rates for students of color. According to the Minnesota Department of Education, Latino, Asian, American Indian and black students in the Minneapolis school district had a combined average dropout rate of 22 percent in 2007. In comparison, 6 percent of white students dropped out. Communications organizer Alondra Espejel said in previous years attending students were instructed to request that legislators pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act . But this year the students didnâÄôt lobby the bill because of the passing of the flat-rate tuition bill , which allows any high school graduate from around the world to enroll at in-state tuition rates in 22 out of 32 schools in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. However, this does not apply to the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Student Day at the Capitol is the first event of a multi-week MIFN program, where K-12 students are matched up with college mentors âÄî part of the groupâÄôs drive to create a better educated community of color. âÄúIf there is enough access to education, then it will affect the Latino community,âÄù Espejel said. âÄúIt will create opportunities for better jobs, better healthcare [and] better living conditions.âÄù