ERIC Identifier: ED382412
Publication Date: 1995-05-00
Author: Espinosa, Linda M.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Hispanic Parent Involvement in Early Childhood Programs. ERIC
Increasing parents' involvement in their children's education is currently
viewed as a cornerstone of most school reform efforts. This belief is expressed
in President Clinton's plea during his 1994 State of the Union Message:
"Parents who know their children's teachers and turn off the television and
help with the homework and teach their kids right from wrong--those kind of
parents can make all the difference." There is remarkable consensus among
educators, parents, and the general public that children will learn more and
schools will improve if we can get parents to do a better job of supporting
their children's schooling. Epstein (1992, p.1141) has summarized research on
parent involvement as suggesting "that students at all grade levels do better
academic work and have more positive school attitudes, higher aspirations, and
other positive behaviors if they have parents who are aware, knowledgeable,
encouraging, and involved."
However, evidence exists that merely increasing the AMOUNT of school
involvement will not necessarily lead to such positive outcomes, especially for
Hispanic families (Bauch, 1992). Hispanic parents have consistently demonstrated
low rates of school involvement; when their involvement has increased, this
increase has not necessarily led to parents' more positive perceptions of
schools (Bauch, 1992; Costas, 1991). If Hispanic parents feel coerced and not
listened to, they do not necessarily benefit from increased contact with the
school. To determine effective strategies for connecting Hispanic parents and
their children's early childhood programs, educators need to develop a greater
understanding of the features of the Hispanic culture that influence parents'
childrearing and socialization practices, communication styles, and orientation
toward formal education.
Although they are united by a common
language, Hispanics in the U.S. are not a homogeneous group. They represent
great diversity in terms of socioeconomic status, race, age, country of origin,
and the nature and timing of their immigration (Nicolau & Ramos, 1990).
Differences among Hispanic subgroups in communication styles and socialization
practices are often greater than the overall differences between Hispanics and
non-Hispanics (Haycock & Duany, 1991). Although Hispanics are the fastest
growing ethnic group in the U.S., relatively little is known about how the
Hispanic culture might interact with the typical American school culture to
produce positive results for children.
Hispanics, except for Cuban-Americans, can be characterized as having high
rates of poverty and low levels of educational achievement (Valdivieso &
Nicolau, 1992). They are also one of the most educationally vulnerable minority
groups in the U.S. They start kindergarten somewhat behind their peers; 44%, by
age 13, are at least one year below expected grade level; and more than 40% drop
out before completing high school (Liontos, 1992; Nicolau & Ramos, 1990).
Although the academic achievement levels and dropout rates for other racial and
ethnic groups have improved in the past decade, Hispanic school performance
remains consistently poor (Liontos, 1992). In order to correct this situation,
educators must understand cultural factors that may be acting as barriers to
Hispanic children's educational success and then devise approaches to help early
childhood programs reach out to Hispanic parents and form partnerships with the
There are some differences in the
way Hispanic and other American children are socialized. Hispanic culture tends
to emphasize obedience and to value respect for adult authority. A directive
style of communication between parent and child is most common, with little
collaborative conversation, elaborated speech models, or early literacy
experiences (Espinosa & Lesar, 1994; Liontos, 1992). Consequently the
language development of Hispanic children is frequently behind that of their
American middle class peers when they enter kindergarten, and may appear
especially so if they have been assessed with formal language measures.
Throughout Hispanic culture there is a widespread belief in the absolute
authority of the school and teachers. In many Latin American countries it is
considered rude for a parent to intrude into the life of the school. Parents
believe that it is the school's job to educate and the parent's job to nurture
and that the two jobs do not mix. A child who is well educated is one who has
learned moral and ethical behavior.
Hispanics, as a whole, have strong family ties, believe in family loyalty,
and have a collective orientation that supports community life; and have been
found to be field dependent with a sensitivity to nonverbal indicators of
feeling (Zuniga, 1992). Culturally this is represented by an emphasis on warm,
personalized styles of interaction, a relaxed sense of time, and a need for an
informal atmosphere for communication. Given these preferences, a culture clash
may result when Hispanic students and parents are confronted with the typical
task-oriented style of most American teachers.
While an understanding of the general cultural characteristics of Hispanics
is helpful, it is important to not overgeneralize. Each family and child is
unique, and care should be taken to not assume values and beliefs just because a
family speaks Spanish and is from Latin America. It is important that teachers
spend the time to discover the particular values, beliefs, and practices of the
families in their community.
Teachers must also examine their own attitudes about working with a minority
group that speaks a different language from their own and may not share the
values of their own culture. To establish genuine partnerships with parents,
genuine relationships with parents built on a foundation of mutual trust and
openness must first be developed.
STRATEGIES THAT WORK
Most, if not all, Hispanic parents
want their children to succeed in school. Some education professionals have
called Hispanic parents a great "untapped resource" (Nicolau & Ramos, 1990,
p.9). Their concern for their children, commitment to family, respect for
education, and desire for a better life have rarely been capitalized on by the
educational establishment. Projects in early childhood programs and in schools
that have successfully involved Hispanic parents recommend the following
PERSONAL TOUCH. It is crucial to use face-to-face communication in the Hispanic
parents' primary language when first making contact. Written flyers or articles
sent home have proven to be ineffective even when written in Spanish. It may
also take several personal meetings before the parents gain sufficient trust to
actively participate. Home visits are a particularly good way to begin to
NON-JUDGMENTAL COMMUNICATION. In order to gain the trust and confidence of
Hispanic parents, teachers must avoid making them feel they are to blame or are
doing something wrong. Parents need to be supported for their strengths, not
judged for perceived failings.
PERSEVERANCE IN MAINTAINING INVOLVEMENT. To keep Hispanic parents actively
engaged, activities planned by the early childhood program must respond to a
real need or concern of the parents. Teachers should have a good idea about what
parents will get out of each meeting and how the meeting will help them in their
role as parents.
BILINGUAL SUPPORT. All communication with Hispanic parents, written and oral,
must be provided in Spanish and English. Many programs report that having
bicultural and bilingual staff helps promote trust (Espinosa & Lesar, 1994).
STRONG LEADERSHIP AND ADMINISTRATIVE SUPPORT. Flexible policies, a welcoming
environment, and a collegial atmosphere all require administrative leadership
and support. As with other educational projects or practices that require
innovation and adaptation, the efforts of teachers alone cannot bring success to
parent involvement projects. Principals must also be committed to project goals.
STAFF DEVELOPMENT FOCUSED ON HISPANIC CULTURE. All staff must understand the key
features of Hispanic culture and its impact on their students' behavior and
learning styles. It is the educator's obligation to learn as much about the
children and their culture and background as possible.
COMMUNITY OUTREACH. Many Hispanic families could benefit from family literacy
programs, vocational training, ESL programs, improved medical and dental
services, and other community-based social services. A school or early childhood
program can serve as a resource and referral agency to support the overall
strength and stability of the families.
It is critical that early childhood programs
demonstrate successful approaches to working with Hispanic families. By forging
closer communication and bridging the cultural gap between home and school,
early childhood educators can establish a basis for future school success. The
current educational status of Hispanic children creates a sense of urgency about
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