Juanita Montes de Oca: closing the education achievement gap

Juanita Montes de Oca serves as Generation Citizen’s Senior Manager of National Program and Curricular Development, where she supports national programming and leads org-wide curricular strategy and innovation.

“One of the things we do really well, and there’s always room for improvement, is creating a democratic classroom culture,� said Montes de Oca about the work Generation Citizen leads. “That’s ensuring the curriculum and the space that it’s taught in is student centered, it’s student driven,� she continued in a panel discussion on C-SPAN.

Montes de Oca says the education that GC provides is not action based; it’s project baaed learning. â€�(It’s) ensuring that students have the confidence, the space, the vocabulary, the activities to look at the different issues.â€� She talked about how the classroom creating a constitution, a living document for the semester is productive in the student’s academic experience.

Montes de Oca was first profiled in the Latino Policy Institute’s #LatinosInRI series. Before joining the GC team in 2017, she taught Action Civics and Social Studies in Providence middle schools for five years.

While teaching Action Civics at Roger Williams middle school, her students founded a Student Council, met with district officials to discuss strategies for increasing teacher diversity, and testified to the Superintendent and School Board about closing the achievement gap between Multi-Language Learners and their peers. What has made Montes de Oca truly most proud is the long-lasting impact GC has made on her students with whom she still maintains relationships today.

“At a time when there is little optimism in our political world, Juanita’s work is actively igniting the passion of students…,” wrote Tom Kerr-Vanderslice, Director of External Affairs at Sophia Academy. “In Juanita’s classes, students understood and worked to address the root causes of systemic issues in practical and creative ways. I saw her students debate with the Mayor of Providence about pension reform, advocate over the phone to their state representatives, and realize how they could use their voices to make change.”

As a passionate advocate for educational social justice, Montes de Oca has served on various advisory boards and working groups. As a Providence Public School parent and resident, she was also a member of the RIDE Community Design Team.

Montes de Oca holds a B.A. in Elementary Education with a content major in Social Studies from Rhode Island College, Feinstein School of Education. She is an alum of the Institute for Nonprofit Practice Core which equips nonprofit, public and social impact leaders with the skills, knowledge, and networks they need to make strategic, mission-driven decisions that center diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB), and affect meaningful change in their organizations and beyond.


Cover photo courtesy: Generation Citizen.

LPI and RI Latino News are partners in elevating the visibility and voices of Rhode Island’s Hispanic-Latino communities.

Is there someone in the community you think we should feature? Send us your ideas to Info@LatinoNewsNetwork.com.

RILN Opinion+: Bridget Kubis Prescott

Welcome to another episode of Rhode Island Latino News Opinion+, where we talk about major issues the Latinx and underrepresented communities are facing in Rhode Island.

This week we spoke with Bridget Kubis Prescott, Director of Education for Save the Bay. The boats of the Narragansett Bay are floating classrooms and give students the opportunity to learn about the bay’s marine life. 

Through studying the biodiversity of the Narragansett Bay, Prescott challenges students on what is considered healthy water, should they care, and what can they do to help save the bay? “School programs are important because these students are the future,â€� states Prescott. The pandemic challenged the organization to provide high quality education in an alternative format. Digital content for students and teachers provided accessibility for those that could not attend in person classes. 

Most education is focused on protecting and restoring Narragansett Bay, water quality, and the impact of climate change. These issues impact animal habitats and the well beings of human society. “Helping students understand the impacts of climate change on salt marshes is really important because salt marshes are the nursery to all animals that live in the bay,� explains Prescott.

Save the Bay continues to gain support from the community through involvement and hopes to continue their mission protecting and restoring Narragansett Bay. 

Resources: 

Main Page: https://www.savebay.org/

Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram: @savethebayri

Proud and Enviable: Latinos in the Military

Rhode Island Latino News (RILN) honor all U.S. military personnel, including the Hispanics-Latinos, who have served and died for our country.

Hispanics-Latinos are the fastest growing minority population in the military – a shift that aligns with larger demographic trends in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center.

Between 2021 and 2046, the share of veterans who are Hispanic-Latino is expected to double from 8 to 16 percent.

About 20,000 Hispanic-Latino men and women served in Operation Desert Shield/Storm in 1990-1991, 80,000 in the Vietnam War in 1959-1973, and more than 400,000 in World War II in 1939-1945, reports Salud America.

Hispanics-Latinos have a “proud and indeed enviableâ€� record of military service that dates back all the way to the Civil War, according to a U.S. Army historical website.

Joe P. Martínez, the first Hispanic-Latino American to posthumously receive the Medal of Honor. | Photo credit U.S. Army

Joe P. Martínez was the first Hispanic-Latino American (and Coloradoan) to posthumously receive the Medal of Honor for his actions in World War II. 

Originally from New Mexico, Martínez grew up in Colorado and was drafted into the Army when he was 21 years old. He fought in the final days of the spring 1943 Battle of Attu on the Aleutian Islands. 

On May 26, Martínez and his regiment were pinned down by enemy fire. In an attempt to secure a key defensive position from the Japanese, Martínez led several assaults on enemy-filled trenches. In his determination, Martínez sometimes eliminated entire trenches of enemies entirely by himself. The other men, inspired by his bravery, followed him. 

Martínez was mortally wounded when approaching the final enemy-occupied trench, but the defensive position was successfully taken by U.S. forces, leading to the end of the battle and – ultimately – Japanese occupation of the Aleutian Islands.

Carmen Conteras Bozak, the first Hispanic American to serve in the Women’s Army Corps. | Photo credit The University of Texas in Austin

Carmen Contreras-Bozak, a Puerto Rican from New York City, was the first Hispanic-Latina American to serve in what would later be known as the Women’s Army Corps.

Contreras-Bozak volunteered to go to North Africa with the cryptology, communications and interpretation company.

Contreras-Bozak was assigned to the Army Signal Corps, where she sent and received coded messages between Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s headquarters in Algiers and the battlefield in Tunisia. Their encampment regularly came under German fire , but she continued to work for the general until an infection sent her to a stateside hospital in 1945.

She was discharged as a technical sergeant, and received the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, two Battle Stars, a World War II Victory Medal, an American Campaign Medal, a WAAC Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal throughout her time in the Army.


Publisher’s Note: This story is an aggregate in part from Courage and Valor: 5 Stories of Hispanic American Military Heroes.

Do you know a Hispanic-Latino service person we should profile? Please send your suggestions to Info@latinonewsnetwork.com

Sazon De RI: Little Sister, Providence

Mallorca, chorizo and manchego cheese, dulce de leche, and alfajores are a taste of what’s on the menu of Little Sister. The café boasts a diverse selection of Latino-inspired dishes in Providence’s college district.

For the owner, Milena Pagán, a Puerto Rican native, the goal is to provide a taste of the Caribbean in her adopted home. “What I love about (Puerto Rican cuisine) is that it has three major influences,” Pagán shared during an interview with Hey Rhody. “There’s the Spanish influence (colonizers), the Taino influence (original inhabitants), and African (enslaved people) influence.”

Pagán moved to the mainland from her hometown, Caguas, to Boston in order to study chemical engineering at MIT, but decided to take a different career path and opened Rebelle Artisan Bagels in 2016 with her husband, Darcy Coleman.

Milena Pagan, the owner of Little Sister, right, and her husband Darcy Coleman (Photo Credit: Milena Pagan)

Pagán returned to the island to reconnect with her roots and get inspiration for putting creative twists and Latino flavor into Little Sister’s offerings.

“I spent thirteen or fourteen years away from the island, and I went back for six weeks. That was the longest I have been there since college,� Pagán told Rhode Island Monthly. “I had an excuse to go down there and spend a lot of time and study the food and get re-cultured, so I could come back and bring home some of those ideas.�

Little Sister has been a special hit among the growing Hispanic-Latino community in Providence, which, as of 2020, makes up 44 percent of the total population. 

“I’m very happy to have a lot of Puerto Ricans coming in here,� Pagán said. “Having a place where they can enjoy a really good plate of food, a place that speaks to them without talking down to them, is really valuable. It kind of feels like they’re in my house.�

Dishes at Little Sister that appeal to the eyes as much as they do to your taste buds.
(Photo Credit: Milena Pagan)

Publisher’s Notes: This story is in part, an aggregate of How This Rhode Island Restaurant Became a Destination for Puerto Rican Cooking.

Expanding Voter Access In RI Clears Another Hurdle

The Let RI Vote Act, which would permanently adopt measures used in 2020 during the pandemic, has cleared another hurdle as the Rhode Island House of Representatives passed the measure on a 52-13 vote Tuesday.

The goal of the bill is to expand voter access while ensuring integrity in state elections.

“As we saw in 2020,” said lead sponsor state Rep. Katherine Kazarian (D-63), “early voting alternatives were used by a large portion of our population and the results of this change in voting patterns produced a smooth and secure election process that ensured that everyone’s vote was safely counted.”

But Republicans questioned the need for the bill and raised concerns about voter fraud. “We are sacrificing the security of our elections for convenience,� Representative Robert Quattrocchi, a Scituate Republican, said in opposing the bill.

“This is a major milestone in the history of voting rights in Rhode Island,” said Marcela Betancur, spokesperson for the Let RI Vote Campaign and executive director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University.

A key component of the measure include setting up a hotline in multiple languages that Betancur said, will provide accurate information in the language a person is most comfortable in, like foreign born Hispanics-Latinos who may not be proficient in English.

On the “3 Questions With…� podcast, Betancur shared insights on how the proposed legislation would break barriers keeping the Hispanic-Latino electorate and other marginalized communities from voting.

Improving Access and Opportunities to Vote in Rhode Island

In 2020, voting by naturalized U.S. citizens was approximately the same rate as those who are Hispanics-Latinos born in the United States, according to a City University of New York study.

Governor Dan McKee sent out statement following the House passage supporting the proposal, adding he’s “ready to sign it.�

RILN Opinion+: Marcela Betancur

This week Marcela Betancur, Executive Director of the Latino Policy Institute (LPI) was our guest on Rhode Island Latino News, Opinion+.

LPI is an advocacy group in Rhode Island that was started by two people with the goal of raising the voices of the Latinx community. The impact Covid-19 had on the Latinx community caused LPI to improve the flow of truthful information on vaccines and resources. “It really helped focus on what we needed,� said Betancur on RILN Opinion+ when explaining the issues of healthcare and employment accessibility.  

The Ocean State has grown in its Latinx presence over the years. Populations from the Dominican Republic and Colombia have moved to Rhode Island over the years. “Every single town has a Latino in it,� stated Betancur. 

Being a part of the immigrant coalition in the state has allowed LPI to advocate for the needs of the Latinx community and even advocate for driving privileges and quality healthcare for undocumented immigrants. They first understand what the community needs and then connect that with what is possible from a policy perspective. 

The largest obstacle faced in Rhode Island is the continuous disinvestment from the state and the U.S. government. Poverty, economic, and housing equity has lacked investment in these issues. LPI builds its community leaders by offering data, research, and practices on bringing people together and building bridges between communities and legislators.

LPI is excited to continue improving voting access, health, and economic equity through driver’s licenses and information. 

Resources: 

Main website: https://lpirwu.org/about-us/

Dr. Taino Palermo: Demystifying The Path To Success

Growing up as a military kid, Dr. Taino Palermo and his sisters were born in many different parts of the world but always called the Bronx, New York, home. During the ’80s and ’90s, life in New York was distinctly different from the life they knew in Puerto Rico. However, their family maintained a solid connection to their indigenous identity as Taino Indians, hence his name. It was vital that they never forgot who they were and where they came from.

In college, Dr. Palermo participated in after-school tutoring that set him on the path of becoming an educator and advocate for the coming generations. Dr. Palermo noticed that for the Latino middle school students he worked with, it was hard to believe that someone just like them was able to attend college. He knew then how important it was to serve as a model, but even more so, how important it is for those in underrepresented positions to demystify the pathway to make it easier for those who come after them.

This understanding led him to a decade-long community economic development and education reform career. Dr. Palermo points out that Rhode Island will be a majority Latino state in the future. He believes that “we are too numerous in this state and in this country not to flex our collective impact to develop policies and programs that benefit our communities.�

In a 2018 TEDxProvidence, Dr. Palermo stressed the importance of anchor institutions, defined as enduring organizations based in their localities (such as colleges, museums, and hospitals), using their resources to address critical issues in their communities. In addition, he says it is vital for these institutions to collaborate with neighborhood social anchors, what he calls the “grandmas on the block,â€� to establish and maintain credibility with the neighborhood. 

“If you don’t have the trust of the people, they will never fully embrace you, and rightfully so. These ambassadors are the ones who are critical to the success of anchor institutional work,� he said.

During his time at Roger Williams University, Dr. Palermo has worked to make his school a prime example of an anchor institution. For instance, he’s worked with RWU Center for Workforce and Professional Development to launch a prisoners’ career readiness program. He also launched Gateway to College, which allows students at risk of dropping out of school to simultaneously earn their high school diploma and Associate’s Degree at Roger Williams University.

He said, “we’re taking bold and innovative steps in hopes that other anchor institutions in the state will follow our lead.â€�He has prioritized his indigenous identity and is the current Chief, or Kasike, of the Baramaya Guainia Clan, a federally non-recognized tribal nation indigenous to modern-day Ponce, Puerto Rico. Today, Taino is a part of the Class of 2022 at Roger Williams University Law School and serves as the American Indian Law Student Association president.


Dr. Taino Palermo was first profiled in the Latino Policy Institute’s #LatinosInRI series.

LPI and RI Latino News are partners in elevating the visibility and voices of Rhode Island’s Hispanic-Latino communities.

Is there someone in the community you think we should feature? Send us your ideas to Info@LatinoNewsNetwork.com.

Improving access and opportunities to vote in Rhode Island

In this year’s midterm elections, national Hispanic-Latino voter turnout is predicted to meet the record participation in 2018, with nearly 12 million voting in congressional and state elections, according to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund (NALEO). Still, that number falls short of the potential, given the community’s population growth increase.

On Tuesday, the Rhode Island state Senate voted 28 to 6 in favor of the Let RI Vote Act, which would permanently adopt measures used in the 2020 election during the pandemic, that resulted in the record number of voter participation.

The move is a major win for organizations like the Let RI Vote campaign that are working to advance voting rights in Rhode Island, giving more people the opportunity to vote.

Marcela Betancur, Executive Director of the Latino Policy Institute (LPI), and campaign spokesperson for the Let RI Vote Campaign was a guest on the Latino News Network podcast, â€œ3 Questions With…â€�. Betancur shared insights on how the proposed legislation will break barriers keeping the Hispanic-Latino electorate and other marginalized communities from voting.

One of the bill’s provisions Betancur says is very exciting to her is that it institutes early voting. �In 2020, we were able to go vote prior to Election Day,� she said. Not �having to stand in line for hours� makes it more convenient for people who do not have flexible schedules to go vote.

In the 2020 general election, 62 percent of the more than 522,000 Rhode Islanders who voted cast their ballots either early or by mail. By comparison, approximately 426,400 Rhode Islanders voted in 2016, and only 9 percent of them voted by mail when early voting was not an option.

Democrats celebrated the approval of the Let RI Vote Act touting it expands voter access, but Republicans warn it could lead to voter fraud. Senator Jessica de la Cruz, a North Smithfield Republican, warned that the legislation would make several “dangerous changes� such as removing notary or witness requirements for mail ballots.

Betancur said the concerns are misplaced. �Today, before this act is even passed, the Board of Election’s practice is verifying that the voter and their signature is the same one when they registered to vote,� she argued. “They’re already not checking a witness. Why do we continue to create this barrier? A lot of it is fear mongering.�

The bill also includes:

  • Allowing voters apply for mail ballots online.
  • Letting voters choose to vote by mail for any reason, without having to give an excuse.
  • Define “early votingâ€� as up to 20 days before Election Day.
  • Provide for each city or town a ballot drop box that’s maintained and regulated by the state Board of Elections.
  • Allow long-term nursing home residents to receive mail ballot applications automatically.
  • Require the secretary of state to update the voter registry at least four times a year.
  • Set up a hotline in multiple languages to provide information about voting and polling locations.

The multilingual voter information hotline, Betancur said, will provide accurate information in the language a person is most comfortable in, like foreign born Hispanics-Latinos who may not be proficient in English.

In 2020, voting by naturalized U.S. citizens was approximately the same rate as those who are Hispanics-Latinos born in the United States, according to a City University of New York study.

The next stop for the legislation is the House of Representatives.

RILN Opinion+: Elliot Rivera

This week we spoke with Elliot Rivera, Executive Director of Youth in Action (YIA) in Rhode Island.

This is a non-profit that focuses on developing young leaders to advocate for change on important issues that impact their communities.

The pandemic caused previous issues such as poverty, accessibility to resources, lack of self-care, domestic violence, and youth homelessness to be amplified. Running this organization is highly influenced by the young generation. “Let’s let the young people decide. They know what’s going to work best for them,� explained Rivera. 

YIA challenges the status quo by providing education about important controversial topics. It is understanding how these issues are connected to one another that is the key to bringing leaders to their full potential. “If we really want the current generation and the next generation to be the best that they can be, we have to start letting those opportunities for leadership and practice happen now,â€� explained Rivera. Their mission is more than the work itself as it is about the camaraderie they have for each other and the greater community. 

The tools used to build leaders in YIA are the development of public speaking, conflict resolution, owning your story, teamwork, self-care, and advocacy work. The importance of self-care and caring for the community while learning the skills to accomplish their goals is what makes YIA unique. 

The fight for antiracism and cultural humility is what YIA advocates for in the education system. Ethnic studies have been lacking as marginalized groups are being misrepresented in the education system. Mental health, counseling, self-care, and community care need to be focused to better reflect all cultures and the concerns of parents and families. Every group faces very similar issues meaning it is important to educate those who are not part of the minority to understand their issues and support them. When one group is struggling it will affect everyone. 

We are pushed to believe that we are alone, but YIA is working to change that narrative. We are all in this together as we all have a role to play. 

Resources Mentioned: 

Lighting The Spark – Community Leaders & Changemakers

“Practices of the old are not going to attract the talent of the new,� said Nina Pande, executive director of Skills for Rhode Island’s Future (SkillsRI). “Diversity, equity, and inclusion is a pronounced voice.�

Pande shared insights about how SkillsRI helps employers in reimagining recruiting for diverse candidates by questioning current practices and holding them (employers) accountable.

She was one of the special guests on the Lighting The Spark – Community Leaders & Changemakers panel hosted by the Verizon State Government Affairs team; moderated by Adriana Dawson, Community Engagement Director at Verizon. 

The program was held last month as part of International Women’s Day (March 8), a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.

The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. Pande and other guests are trailblazing women across the country driving change in their communities. From ending hunger to creating new educational and career opportunities to opening doors for small business owners, these women are helping their communities thrive.

A Target 12 analysis of labor statistics from 2018-2020 found that almost an equal number of men and women were employed in Rhode Island when the first COVID-19 infection was identified, reported WPRI.

By April 2020, amid sweeping shutdowns, employment plummeted 25 percent for women, while declining only 8 percent for men. Since then, male employment has largely recovered, while the number of women employed in Rhode Island remained 11 percent below pre-pandemic levels.

Since the COVID-19 began, Latinas have not only experienced disproportionately high unemployment rates, but they also are dropping out of the workforce at higher rates than any other demographic group.

A report published by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative reveals three main drivers to changes in the number of Latinas in the U.S. labor force since the beginning of the pandemic:

  • Latinas are disproportionately responsible for family care obligations versus Latino men, and they are more likely to stay at home than U.S. mothers of other racial backgrounds. That burden was exacerbated during the pandemic because of the closure of schools and day care centers.
  • A lack of access to education and training opportunities for higher wage opportunities disincentivizes Latinas’ participation in the labor force overall.
  • Latinas are disproportionately employed in leisure, hospitality and related low-wage industries that were particularly vulnerable to pandemic-related closures.

Dawson also hosts US Tech Future, a Verizon-led community-focused initiative working to engage the local community in a discussion about technology and how it can improve the lives of local residents for their benefit and the benefit of the community as a whole.


Adriana Dawson (she, her, hers, ella) is a nationally recognized leader with over 20 years of demonstrated impact at the intersection of community and business development.

Adriana leads the Verizon Foundation and social impact programming efforts in her markets. In this role she leads and expands Verizon’s partnership network, strategic investments, and collaborates up and across the business introducing new market opportunities. She is also the Partnerships and Volunteer Global Committee Lead for SOMOS, an enterprise-wide Employee Resource Group (ERG) giving voice to Verizon’s 4K+ Hispanic/Latinx employees.

Ms. Dawson, a first generation Colombian American, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies from Northeastern University and holds a Master of Arts in Management Communication from Emerson College.