published Monday, October 1st, 2012

La Plaza Comunitaria seeks new facility


Jose Perez takes a computer class at the La Plaza Comunitaria at the St. Andrews Center in Highland Park.
Jose Perez takes a computer class at the La Plaza Comunitaria at the St. Andrews Center in Highland Park.
Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

PLAZAS COMUNITARIAS 2011

* Nationwide: 400

* Georgia: 17

* Tennessee: 4

Source: Consulate General of Mexico in Atlanta

After eight years and hundreds of students helped with reading, writing and high-school equivalency diplomas, La Plaza Comunitaria is looking for a new home.

Chattanooga State Community College had housed the local Plaza, with more than 100 students per year, since 2004. Now college officials said it's time for the program to get broader community support that really meets students' needs.

As of Dec. 1, the college no longer will house the program, which shared classroom space with the English as a Second Language classes offered in the St. Andrews Center in Highland Park.

La Plaza Comunitaria educational program, sponsored by the Mexican government and entities such as colleges or churches, teaches immigrants everything from literacy to studying for the General Educational Development test to job-skill classes, including computers and gardening.

The number of Plazas Comunitarias has grown from 310 to 420 nationwide in the last seven years, according to the Mexican government. In the region, the number of Plazas increased from 17 to 24 between 2009 and 2011, according to the Consulate General of Mexico in Atlanta.

"The original intention [of La Plaza], as I understand it, was to work with the Hispanic community to get them into college, to make them successful in the economy by helping them get technical training or college education," said Eva Lewis, spokeswoman at Chattanooga State.

But to get there, many first had to become literate in their own language, earning their elementary and middle school certificates.

Chattanooga State provided $10,000 a year plus the director's position and the use of computer labs. The rest came from fundraising and grants from the Mexican government.

Lewis said the college, like most higher education institutions, is facing budget issues, but remains committed to increasing diversity.

"Our commitment to the Latino population is strong and not wavering," she said. "It's really just trying to help La Plaza become supported by the community at the level it really needs."

Mike Feely, whose position as director of La Plaza ended Sept. 15, said he is in conversations with area nonprofits to find a good match for the program.

"We'll still have a partnership with Chattanooga State but it will also free us to do some other educational stuff, including offering free college classes."

about Perla Trevizo...

Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...

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