ERIC Identifier: ED447990
Publication Date: 2000-10-00
Author: Chavkin, Nancy Feyl - Gonzalez, John
Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV., AEL Inc.
Mexican Immigrant Youth and Resiliency: Research and Promising
Programs. ERIC Digest.
Recent RAND Corporation reports underscore the uneven educational achievement
of various immigrant groups in the United States (Vernez & Abrahamse, 1996;
Schoeni, McCarthy, & Vernez, 1996). Mexican immigrants lag behind other
immigrants in educational completion, and they have scored lower on reading and
math achievement tests than have White and immigrant Asian children (Kao &
Tienda, 1995). The preponderance of data paints a gloomy picture of the status
of Mexican immigrant youth, but at the same time, researchers are reporting the
successes of many resilient youth who have overcome the toughest of odds to
succeed. This Digest examines both the research about resiliency and some
promising programs for Mexican immigrant youth.
Resiliency theory identifies protective
factors present in the families, schools, and communities of successful youth
that often are missing in the lives of troubled youth (Krovetz, 1999). When at
least some of these protective factors are present, children develop resiliency,
that is, the ability to cope with adversity. According to Bonnie Benard (1991;
1997), there are at least four common attributes of resilient children:
sense of purpose and future
Resiliency theory proposes that all of these attributes are present to some
degree in most people. Whether they are strong enough to help individuals cope
with adversity, however, depends on the presence of protective factors during
The research on psychological resilience
begins with the classic study by Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith (1992). Over a
40-year period, they studied 700 at-risk Hawaiian residents born under adverse
circumstances, including chronic poverty; about 200 of the sample were
considered high risk. The sample was composed of poor children whose parents and
grandparents had immigrated to Hawaii from Asia or Europe. Approximately
two-thirds of the sample had various problems during childhood, while the other
one-third showed no problems at all. By the time the study participants reached
their mid-thirties, almost all (including many who had experienced problems) had
become constructively motivated and responsible adults. A distinguishing factor
shared by each resilient child was a long-term, close relationship with a
caring, responsible parent or other adult. Only about 30 of the original group
of 700 did not effectively "bounce back." Interestingly, the researchers found
that socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds did not play a role.
Lingxin Hao and Melissa Bonstead-Bruns (1998) used National Education
Longitudinal Survey data (based on children who were eighth graders in 1988) to
examine family influences on children's achievement, paying special attention to
ethnic variables. They found lower levels of parent-child interactions among
immigrant Mexican Americans than among immigrant Asian Americans; however,
immigrant Mexican students had one strong advantage: knowledge of their parents'
language. Proficiency in the parental language significantly improved math
achievement and grades.
Kimberly Gordon (1996) examined the self-concept and motivational patterns of
36 Hispanic youth in an urban school setting. The principal difference between
resilient and non-resilient students was that the resilient youths had more
faith in their cognitive abilities. The resilient youths excelled academically
because they believed that they could understand the material and information
presented in class and that they could do well on homework and tests.
Research in the fields of child and human development, effective schools, and
competent communities reveals that successful development in any human system
relates directly to the quality of relationships in the system and opportunities
for participation in those relationships (Benard, 1991). Three key
characteristics support productive development: caring relationships,
communication of high expectations and positive beliefs, and opportunities for
participation. Werner and Smith (1992) argued that the most important of these
protective factors is a caring relationship with someone, regardless of whether
that person is a parent, teacher, or community mentor.
Genevieve Johnson (1997) surveyed 38 inner-city principals and teachers
regarding their personal and professional experiences with at-risk students who
had demonstrated resiliency. The principals and teachers identified a broad
range of compensatory factors focusing on the home, school, and community. These
findings support Benard's study (1991).
In sum, the literature on resiliency identifies five key protective factors
of families, schools, and communities:
supportive relationships, particularly encouragement from school personnel and
student characteristics, such as self-esteem, motivation, and accepting
family factors, such as parental support/concern and school involvement
community factors, such as community youth programs (e.g., sports, clubs,
school factors, such as academic success and pro-social skills training
A number of promising programs have
helped Mexican immigrant children increase their resiliency. Advancement Via
Individual Determination (AVID) in San Diego placed students from low-income,
ethnic and linguistic minority backgrounds in college preparation classes along
with high-achieving peers. The project resulted in higher college enrollment
compared with school district and national averages. The ethnic and language
minority students developed an academic identity, formed academically oriented
peer groups, and recognized the necessity of academic achievement for
occupational success (Mehan, Villanueva, & Lintz, 1996).
In Houston, Project GRAD (Graduation Really Achieves Dreams) targets high
schools with high drop-out rates, providing support and scholarships for
students. The program begins preparing children for college while they are still
in kindergarten; it then targets elementary and junior high schools that feed
the high school. The project has resulted in higher attendance rates, reductions
in teenage pregnancies, fewer disciplinary problems, and better test scores
AVANCE (Spanish word meaning "to advance"), a preschool parenting program in
San Antonio, has incorporated the family culture to achieve significant success
with recent and second-generation Mexican immigrant families (Romo, 1999). It
helps low-income, often single, mothers to provide educationally stimulating and
emotionally encouraging environments for their young children. AVANCE has
succeeded in reducing isolation and depression. As a result, mothers are more
emotionally and verbally responsive to their children, avoid restrictive and
punishing behaviors, and provide more variety in their children's daily routines
(Hamburg, 1994). An added benefit is that the mothers have developed larger
networks of friends, know more about community resources, and have more
frequently enrolled in and completed General Educational Development (GED)
courses and English-as-a-second-language (ESL) classes.
Mujeres y Hombres Nobles, Spanish for "honorable men and women," is a model
program for students who have dropped out of the public school system. Its
primary emphasis is to instill in students a sense of self-pride, including an
appreciation for their culture and language. It fuses the talents and resources
of East Los Angeles, helping pregnant teenagers, gang members, drug users, and
juvenile offenders get back into school, off drugs, out of gangs, and into
counseling. The program also invites non-program students and adults from the
community to participate. Data for measuring long term success of the program
are not yet available; however, participants report "We're showing a lot of
success in just a short period of time and we know that we are already
positively affecting young lives and in the future we will make a difference"
(Pulido, 1995, p. 12).
Achievement for Latinos through Academic Success (ALAS) focused on educating
Latino youth with disabilities and high-risk Latino youth who live in urban
areas (Gandara, Larson, Rumberger, & Mehan, 1998). The program emphasized
psychosocial interventions as well as academic and cultural interventions. It
had a positive effect on mobility, attendance, class passing rate, and
graduation credits; unfortunately, when the program was discontinued, the
students lost the gains they had made and failed to graduate. This is evidence
that a program must be ongoing and not just a one-time intervention.
The MegaSkills Program has been the foundation for a comprehensive school
wide reform effort at a Texas elementary school where many of the students are
recent Mexican immigrants and live in colonies a few miles from the Mexico
border. MegaSkills, developed by Dorothy Rich of the Home and School Institute,
outlines 11 attributes and skills needed for success at school and work:
confidence, motivation, effort, responsibility, perseverance, caring,
initiative, teamwork, problem solving, common sense, and focus. The program has
resulted in multifaceted and broad-based school improvements: test scores
improved, attendance increased, behavior improved, teacher and staff morale
increased, parent involvement increased, and community participation increased.
Much of the success was due to the program beginning early; drawing on the
talents and resources of the community; and including all teachers, staff,
parents, and students, and the community (Mattox, 1999).
The research on resiliency and examples of
successful resiliency programs share one common factor: community collaborative
programs that recognize and capitalize on the assets and strengths of Mexican
immigrant youth and their families. Mexican immigrant families have many
strengths, which need to be identified. It is clear that more resiliency
programs should use these strengths to foster caring relationships, active
participation, increased parent-child interactions, and high expectations.
Families, schools, and communities must work together to achieve this goal.
AVANCE. (1999). AVANCE Research Activities.
Benard, B. (1991). Fostering resiliency in kids: Protective factors in the
family, school, and community. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational
Laboratory. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 335 781)
Benard, B. (1997). Drawing forth resilience in all our youth. Reclaiming
Children and Youth, 6(1), 29-32.
Gandara, P., Larson, K., Rumberger, R., & Mehan, H. (1998). Capturing
Latino students in the academic pipeline.
Gordon, K. (1996). Resilient Hispanic youths' self-concept and motivational
patterns. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 18(1), 63-73.
Hamburg, D. A. (1994). Today's children: Creating a future for a generation
in crisis. New York: Time Books.
Hao, L., & Bonstead-Bruns, M. (1998). Parent-child differences in
educational expectations and the academic achievement of immigrant and Native
students. Sociology of Education, 71(3), 175-198.
Johnson, G. M. (1997). Resilient at-risk students in the inner city. McGill
Journal of Education, 32(1), 35-49.
Kao, G., & Tienda, M. (1995). Optimism and achievement: The educational
performance of immigrant youth. Social Science Quarterly, 76(1), 1-19.
Krovetz, M. (1999). Fostering resiliency: Expecting all students to use their
minds and hearts well. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Mattox, B. A. (1999). Impact of the MegaSkills Program for students,
teachers, parents school-wide.
McAdoo, M. (1998). Project GRAD's strength is the sum of its parts. Ford
Foundation Report, spring/summer, 9-10.
Mehan, H. I., Villanueva, L. H., & Lintz, A. (1996). Constructing school
success: The consequences of untracking low-achieving students. New York:
Cambridge University Press.
Pulido, J. A. (1995). A high school program for "at-risk" Latino youth
mujeres y hombres nobles (honorable men and women). American Secondary
Education, v. 23, 10-12.
Romo, H. (1999). Reaching out: Best practices for educating Mexican-origin
children and youth. Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and
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Schoeni, R. F., McCarthy, K. F., & Vernez, G. (1996). The mixed
educational progress of immigrants. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.
Vernez, G., & Abrahamse, A. (1996). How immigrants fare in U.S.
education. Santa Monica, CA: RAND. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED
Werner, E., & Smith, R. (1992). Overcoming the odds: High risk children
from birth to adulthood. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.