One of the most important tools a child can receive for success is for a parent to be actively involved in their child’s education.
Much research has been done that unequivocally affirms the positive and long-lasting effects of parent, family, and community involvement on student achievement, both for younger (pre-elementary and elementary school) and older (secondary school) students. And according to the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Past, Present and Future (2011), it seems like parent and community engagement has increased, which is a good sign. The survey doesn’t break information down by ethnicity, though, so one wonders how things would break down in the Latino community, given the cultural and socioeconomic variables. Has parental engagement increased for our community as well? And if not, how can we get there?
Eileen Campos, a mother of 2 school-aged boys, who also happens to be a 3rd grade teacher, says that “the Latino parents that I have worked with have shown that they do care.” Still, she believes that there is “a little segment in every culture that may not be involved in their child’s education. This could be due to a language barrier or information not arriving home to them as well. Also, many times parents work late hours to make ends meet and they cannot dedicate time to their child’s education.”
That Latino parents care, there should be no doubt. After all, most parents want their children to do well in school, don’t they? Jose Rico, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Latinos, suggests that there may be more to a Latino parent’s engagement than just his/her willingness to participate. He explains: “What I have seen, is that schools need to better define what they mean by parent involvement for Latino parents. The research is clear, that when there’s a shared commitment to build positive relationships between parents and school personnel to find ways to work together, students’ attendance will increase and their academic performance will improve.”
This means that there must be a clear realization by all parties involved in a child’s educational development that the role each one assumes in monitoring and guiding his/her schooling is essential to academic success. While parents must take responsibility for actively engaging, schools and teachers must also take extra steps to provide the kind of ‘welcoming’ environment these parents need to feel like they are part of the process.
“The way you make parents feel comfortable is to warm up to them, treat them as one of your own,” says Campos. At the same time, she concedes, “it should be mandatory for parents to attend a weekly meetings to speak with teachers and attend PTA conferences. The standards are higher now and some parents don’t know how to help their child, neither can they afford a tutor.”
For Rico, creating an inclusive environment could mean “increasing bilingual staff, offering ESL classes, or starting regular teacher/parent meetings. Increasing communication is key to improving parent involvement. There are many school and community organizations that are having great success bridging the gap based on a shared interest of providing the best education for the students.”
One of such organizations, the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest association of education professionals, works with affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States in advancing public education. They also have developed a set of parent guides to offer parents and caregivers’ tips on how to best support their children at home.
NEA’s Vice President, Lily Eskelsen, says that their organization, including its local associations of teachers, are adopting measures to that effect. For example, she cites, “in Putnam City West High School, the teachers and staff members decided that the growing number of Latino families meant that they had to reach out in more creative ways. Now, they have parent nights to talk about how to fill out applications for scholarships for college, [and] they have speakers in Spanish.”
Whether those efforts are enough or not, reports on Latino education achievement released earlier this week are very encouraging. Yet, there is certainly room for improvement in each one of these areas. “We know that it turns around schools when parents feel welcome, when they feel that they will be able to participate, and when someone genuinely cares about their child and respects the culture of the community,” says Eskelsen.
In the next 40 years, Latinos will drive 60 percent of the growth in the labor force. And most of the current labor force [regardless of ethnicity] will be either gone or on its way out. The combined effort of every party invested in a child’s development holds the key as to how that future plays out for our children… for our whole world.
Elianne Ramos is Principal/CEO of Speak Hispanic Marketing and Vice-Chair, Marketing and PR for Latinos in Social Media (LATISM). Under LATISM, she is also Chief Editor of the LATISM blog, and hostess to weekly Twitter chats reaching over 18.8 million impressions. Follow her on Twitter @ergeekgoddess.