“There wasn’t enough money to pay for it,” Ramos says. “I would stay after school or go to the public library or to a friend’s house” to access class information online.
He did not know how to pay for college or get transportation to attend, which is why he did not apply before graduating high school.
He says he “never understood anything” about federal student financial-aid programs and said the forms are confusing.
Wage benefits that come with higher education are not known to him or his friends, he says.
Long-range planning and saving is difficult when his parents struggle to pay monthly bills.
“They just break their backs and get upset because they don’t have any money,” he says.
His mother is a homemaker and his dad works for a construction company.
Now a few months out of high school, he says his dream is to spend two years at a community college, then transfer to a four-year university, studying music and fine arts. He has taken courses in tax preparation and needs a job to help pay for fees and books.
Manassas’ Hispanic population rose to 11,876 in 2010, or 31 percent of the population, more than doubling from 15.1 percent or 5,316 in 2000, according to city figures. The number of Hispanic students grew to 3,629 in the last academic year, about 51 percent of the total, from 27 percent in 2003-2004.
The city’s southern identity — a US Civil War battlefield is close by and streets bear names like “Reb Yank Drive” — competes with signs of Hispanic influence. Shopping centers host stores such as Video Mexico and Taqueria Tres Reyes, where goat-meat tacos can be purchased with a tall glass of horchata, a sweet beverage made with rice, milk and almonds.
“One of the first things I asked is how do we speak to people who don’t speak English?” says Catherine Magouyrk, who was appointed superintendent of the city’s schools this year.
She spent US$15,000 on translation equipment so parents could understand what was going on at back-to-school nights.
In May, the town also elected Ilka Chavez to the school board, its first Hispanic member.
“I am here for all the kids,” Chavez says. “But if we can move and engage the Hispanic population, it will stabilize the system across the board.”
The city had 186 Hispanic students in its Class of 2012 cohort, according to state data. Of those, 69 percent graduated on time according to state criteria, while 14.5 percent dropped out. That compares with an 89 percent graduation rate for 202 whites and a dropout rate of 3.5 percent.
Magouyrk, interviewed in her office just a few steps away from the school, says she is meeting quarterly with all students to hear them out.
“There isn’t just one answer,” she says. “It will take a multifaceted approach to meet the variety of needs of all our students.”
Her aim is to keep information, counseling and goals in front of teens so they remain focused on a career or college path and do not drop out. She says local churches, which get the word out to parents, are big allies in the effort.
Father Ramon Dominguez, a Catholic priest who has worked with more than 200 children in his tutoring program at Georgetown South, says Hispanic teens need role models, better information and more hands-on guidance.