ERIC Identifier: ED350380
Publication Date: 1992-08-00
Author: Inger, Morton
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban
Education New York NY.
Increasing the School Involvement of Hispanic Parents. ERIC/CUE
Digest Number 80.
The importance of family structure and support for extended families remains
strong among Hispanics in the U.S. despite news reports about the decline of the
traditional family in general. At home, Hispanic children are usually nurtured
with great care by a large number of relatives. Often, however, family members
don't extend their caregiving role into their children's schools; they are
reluctant to become involved in either their children's education or in school
activities. In the case of poor Hispanic parents, interactions with school range
from low to nonexistent (Nicolau & Ramos, 1990).
There is considerable evidence that parent involvement leads to improved
student achievement, better school attendance, and reduced dropout rates, and
that these improvements occur regardless of the economic, racial, or cultural
background of the family (Flaxman & Inger, 1991). Thus, given that 40
percent of Hispanic children are living in poverty, that Hispanics are the most
under-educated major segment of the U.S. population, and that many Hispanic
children enter kindergarten seriously lacking in language development and
facility, regardless of whether they are bilingual, speak only English, or speak
only Spanish, the need to increase the involvement of Hispanic parents in their
children's schools is crucial.
SCHOOLS AND HISPANICS: SEPARATED BY SOCIAL BARRIERS
Hispanics' countries of origin, the roles of parents and schools were sharply
divided. Many low-income Hispanic parents view the U.S. school system as "a
bureaucracy governed by educated non-Hispanics whom they have no right to
question" (Nicolau & Ramos, 1990, p. 13). Many school administrators and
teachers misread the reserve, the non-confrontational manners, and the
non-involvement of Hispanic parents to mean that they are uncaring about their
children's education--and this misperception has led to a cycle of mutual
mistrust and suspicion between poor Hispanic parents and school personnel.
Many schools have unconsciously erected barriers to Hispanic parents,
adopting a paternalistic or condescending attitude toward them. In some cases,
parent-teacher organizations meet during working hours, and material sent home
is in English only. Few teachers or administrators are offered guidance or
training to help them understand and reach out to Hispanic parents, and school
personnel rarely speak Spanish. Less than three percent of the nation's
elementary school teachers, less than two percent of secondary teachers, and
only two percent of other school personnel are Hispanic (Orum & Navarette,
THE HISPANIC FAMILY: AN UNTAPPED RESOURCE
One step that
schools can take is to understand and tap into an important and underutilized
source of strength--the Hispanic extended family. Aunts, uncles, grandparents,
cousins, godparents, and even friends all play a role in reinforcing family
values and rearing children. This is a resource that schools can and should draw
With budget cuts affecting virtually every school district in the country,
public schools have turned to parents for help. Parents keep school libraries
open, raise funds for computers and playground equipment, and, at some schools,
even pay out of their own pockets to continue before-school and after-school
enrichment programs. Although worthwhile, these efforts raise troubling
questions: "[W]hat happens to schools in which parents do not have enough money
to compensate for the system's failings?" (Chira, 1992). And what happens at
schools where Hispanic parents are not involved and therefore are not available
to supplement the school's staff? Does this put their children at an increased
competitive disadvantage? Budget crises thus reinforce the urgency for schools
to break down the barriers between them and Hispanic families.
Through expanded outreach efforts, a budget crisis could be an opportunity to
bring Hispanic family members into the school. Even if the parents are working
and cannot volunteer their time, other available family members could serve as a
pool of potential volunteers. If the schools need their help, and if this need
is made clear, Hispanic family members are more likely to feel welcome, useful,
and respected, and this participation could lead to a fuller involvement with
But the need for schools to work with what Delgado (1992) calls the "natural
support systems" of Hispanics--e.g., the extended family, neighborhood
mutual-help groups, community based organizations--goes beyond the short-term
exigencies of a budget crisis. By working with these natural support systems and
not insisting on meeting only with the nuclear family, schools can draw poor
Hispanic families into the system.
REMOVING THE BARRIERS
Some educators, community groups, and
government agencies are working to develop ways to encourage greater
participation by low-income, non-English-speaking parents. Some school districts
now employ a range of special training programs to help parents build
self-esteem, improve their communication skills, and conduct activities that
will improve their children's study habits. Within the U.S. Department of
Education's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE), Project Even
Start provides assistance to instructional programs that combine adult literacy
outreach with training to enable parents to support the educational growth of
In the private sphere, many Hispanic organizations have undertaken a variety
of projects to improve the relationship between schools and poor Hispanic
families. For example, the Hispanic Policy Development Project (HPDP) conducted
a nationwide grant program to promote and test strategies to increase Hispanic
parental involvement in the schooling of their children. And the National
Council of La Raza (NCLR) runs a series of demonstration projects, called
Project EXCEL, that combine tutoring and enrichment programs for Hispanic
children with training seminars for parents.
The following recommendations are based on
what has been learned from the efforts of educators and community groups to
improve Hispanic parent involvement.
Programs that increase and retain the involvement of Hispanic parents follow
a simple, basic rule: they make it easy for parents to participate. In Detroit's
Effective Parenting Skills Program, for example, programs and materials are
bilingual, baby-sitting is provided, there are no fees, and times and locations
of meetings are arranged for the convenience of the parents (Linn, 1990, cited
in Flaxman & Inger, 1991). Other programs provide interpreters and
Outreach efforts require extra staff. They take considerable time and cannot
be handled by a regular staff person with an already full job description. Also,
successful outreach is organized by people who have volunteered, not by people
who have been assigned to the job.
Hispanic parents need to be allowed to become involved with the school
community at their own pace. As the Hispanic Policy Development Project (HPDP)
learned, "All the schools that felt that poor Hispanic parents should begin
their involvement by joining the existing parents' organizations failed"
(Nicolau & Ramos, 1990, p. 18). Before they join existing parent
organizations, Hispanic parents want to acquire the skills and the confidence to
contribute as equals.
The hardest part of building a partnership with low-income Hispanic parents
is getting parents to the first meeting. HPDP found that impersonal
efforts--letters, flyers, announcements at church services or on local radio or
TV--were largely ineffective, even when these efforts were in Spanish. The only
successful approach is personal: face-to-face conversations with parents in
their primary language in their homes.
Home visits not only personalize the invitations but help school staff to
understand and deal with parents' concerns. The schools learn, for example,
which families need baby-sitting or transportation; and the parents learn
whether they can trust the school staff or otherwise allay their fears about
Since many low-income Hispanics feel uncomfortable in schools, successful
projects hold the first meetings outside of the school, preferably at sites that
are familiar to the parents. Successful first meetings are primarily social
events; unsuccessful ones are formal events at school, with information aimed
"at" the parents.
To retain the involvement of low-income Hispanic parents, every meeting has
to respond to some needs or concerns of the parents. Programs that consult with
parents regarding agendas and meeting formats and begin with the parents' agenda
eventually cover issues that the school considers vital; those that stick
exclusively to the school's agenda lose the parents.
Based on what it learned from its 42 School/Parent projects, HPDP concluded
that overcoming the barriers between schools and Hispanic parents does not
require large amounts of money; it does require personal outreach,
non-judgmental communication, and respect for parents' feelings. HPDP found that
although Hispanic school personnel can facilitate the process, non-Hispanics can
also be effective. In fact, HPDP reported that the two most successful and
innovative programs were led by a Chinese principal and an Anglo principal.
Both, however, spoke Spanish.
ASPIRA 1112 16th St., NW, Suite 340 Washington,
Hispanic Policy Development Project 250 Park Ave. South, Suite 5000A New
York, NY 10003
Mexican American Legal Defense Fund 634 South Spring St., 11th Floor Los
Angeles, CA 90014
National Council of La Raza 810 First St., NE, Suite 300 Washington, DC
National Puerto Rican Coalition 1700 K Street, NW Washington, DC 20006
Chira, S. (1992, March 30). The new cost of
public education. The New York Times, B1.
Delgado, M. (1992). The Puerto Rican community and natural support systems:
Implications for the education of children. Boston: Center on Families,
Communities, Schools, and Children's Learning.
Flaxman, E., & Inger, M. (1991, September). Parents and schooling in the
1990s. The ERIC Review, 1(3), 2-6.
Nicolau, S., & Ramos, C. L. (1990). Together is better: Building strong
relationships between schools and Hispanic parents. Washington, DC: Hispanic
Policy Development Project.
Orum, L., & Navarette, L. (1990, January-February). Project EXCEL: A
national Hispanic organizaation seeks to improve the American educational system
for Hispanic children. Electric Perspectives, 14(1), 4-14. (ED 337 558)
State of Hispanic America 1991: An overview. (1992). Washington, DC: National
Council of La Raza.