Her presence and ethnic background in the classroom are desperately needed. Here's why: Only 3.9% of Durham Public School educators are Latino, but 34% of students are Latino.
"I honestly think it's pretty unfair to the students. Specifically for this district, that has so many Latino kids," said Santiago.
Here are the numbers across the Triangle:
- Latino Teachers: 3.9%
- Latino Students 18.6%
- Latino Teachers: 3.9%
- Latino Students 34.2%
- Latino Teachers: 7.0%
- Latino Students: 18.1%
There are ethnic disparities between teachers and students in Wake, Durham and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.
"We still have a long way to go. There is still significant increase in (Latino) educators that we need to see," said Dr. Kelvin Bullock, executive director for Equity Affairs at DPS.
Bullock said the district has been actively recruiting across the country and at local universities.
But in 2019, the district partnered with colleges in Puerto Rico to recruit educators. DPS hired Santiago fresh out of college from the island and one of its first recruits from the initiative that same year.
Now in her third school year, Santiago sees the effect she's having, helping one student who recently immigrated to the country.
"When he saw me, and he saw I was actually speaking Spanish, and he noticed I was Latina, he like, related to me and didn't want to leave my side," said Santiago. "It's a wild experience because I don't think of myself as doing much."
DPS has parity with its ratio of Black teachers and students, but its goal is to recruit more Black men.
"We see in research that student outcomes are improved by having educators that look like them, said Bullock.
Alphonso Donaldson, an English teacher at the Durham School of the Arts has been with the district for nearly a decade.
"We need black male roles models who we can see existing and thriving in a career that builds community," said Donaldson. "That's powerful."
The Hunt Institute in Cary announced it recently received $1.25 million from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to support a nationwide campaign to add 1 million new teachers and 30,000 school leaders who are ethnic minorities by 2030.
"Very, grateful. Very grateful for their support," said Javaid Siddiqi, President and CEO of Hunt Institute. "We are going to put a focus on how we illuminate policies that are impeding teachers."