ERIC Identifier: ED448010
Publication Date: 2000-12-00
Author: Martinez, Yolanda G. - Velazquez, Jose A.
ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Involving Migrant Families in Education. ERIC Digest.
Children of migrant farm workers, more than other children, confront a number
of risk factors for school failure (Menchaca & Ruiz-Escalante, 1995). Some
of these factors--including mobility, poverty, and lack of access to
schooling--were recognized and described as early as the 1940s. School-level
data, however, indicate that educators frequently attribute school failure to a
lack of parent involvement ("parents just don't care"). This digest describes
parent involvement in the education process from the perspective of parents and
educators and offers strategies to enhance the experience of schooling for
migrant students and their families.
PARENT INVOLVEMENT IN EDUCATION
In the move toward a more
inclusive education system, parents are encouraged, and often expected, to visit
their children's school regularly. These expectations are guided by a set of
assumptions, held mostly by teachers, regarding the role parents should play in
their children's education. According to Lareau (1989, p.2-3), parent
involvement as perceived by teachers involves
Preparing children for school (i.e., teaching children the alphabet, talking
and reading to children to promote language development), attending school
events (i.e., parent-teacher conferences) and fulfilling any requests teachers
make of parents (i.e., to play word games with their children at home).
It is no wonder that migrant parents are so often perceived as uninvolved:
Their life circumstances preclude fulfillment of the expected role.
Although most migrant parents are financially unable to buy their children
expensive educational toys, and lack the time or educational background to
participate in their children's education as schools expect, they do make a
significant contribution to their children's education. To understand migrant
parent involvement, educators must understand how migrant parents define
education and the role they play in the process of education thus defined.
A study of the similarities and differences in the way school teachers and
migrant parents perceive education revealed a basic difference between
"education" and "instruction" (Martinez, 1997). Mothers defined education in
terms of forming the child's character--focusing on such issues as development
of morals, values, respect for self and others, good manners, responsibility
towards self and the community, and so forth. Teachers, on the other hand,
defined education in terms of academically oriented instruction--learning to
read, developing writing skills, and mathematical problem-solving.
Some migrant parents are nonetheless aware of schools' expectations for them.
These parents cite barriers that impede participation in their children's
educational activities. Lack of English proficiency limits the extent to which
migrant parents can help their children with homework and can also limit
parents' ability to communicate with teachers. Lack of educational skills
becomes an even greater factor when helping their older children, as described
by one migrant mother (Martinez, 1997, pp. 71-72):
With two of my children, I do very little because they go to higher
grades...I can't participate with them because I don't have the education. What
I do is...take them to the library so they can find information in books...the
one I do a little more with is the youngest, she is in fifth grade, so I sit
with her and help her and I go over her homework.
Lack of time, frequently cited as a barrier to parent involvement, presents
particular hardships to migrant farm workers who enter the fields before dawn
and return home late in the evening. One migrant worker put it this way:
There are times when you get up so early in the morning that you only have
time to get your children dressed and take them to someone to take care of them.
In the evenings, sometimes you pick them up and they are already asleep . . .
sometimes you can pick them up earlier . . . but then you have to go home and
clean, wash clothes, cook . . . Sometimes you are so tired that you get home in
a bad mood and maybe you take it out on your children . . . I think that a
person who works in the fields is affected by having to invest so much time in
that work . . . (Martinez, 1997, p. 75)
OVERVIEW OF THE LITERATURE ON PARENT INVOLVEMENT IN
While most migrant parents want their children to succeed in
school (Lareau, 1989; Martinez, 1991), not all parents construct the path to
success in the same way. Valdes (1996) suggests that efforts to involve migrant
parents must take into account social inequalities, educational ideologies,
educational structures, and interpersonal interactions, as well as the interplay
of these factors. Such diverse influences inevitably shape educational outcomes
for migrant children.
According to Valdes (1996), family intervention programs have been
"prescriptive" for the most part--parents are rarely engaged or invited to
participate in describing or diagnosing a dilemma. She argues that families
themselves should play an integral role in this effort by using their resources,
networks, and traditions.
Family intervention programs based on an understanding, appreciation, and
respect for the internal dynamics of these families, as well as for their values
and beliefs, are essential to improving the involvement of migrant parents in
education. Practitioners involved in such programs will not only help to
maintain the integrity of migrant families, they will themselves begin to
recognize that new immigrants bring with them successful lifeways that enrich
our society as a whole.
Following Delgado-Gaitan's (1990, 1993) argument, parents' contributions to
the education process can be accessed through "environmental resources" or
"emotional and motivational resources." "Environmental resources" refer to
parents' economic resources, education level, familiarity with education
systems, participation in social networks outside the home, and so forth. Thus,
"environmental resources" are the cumulative result of parents' economic and
education backgrounds and their participation in and familiarity with the system
"Emotional and motivational resources" refer to parents' perceptions of
education as important for socioeconomic success. Emotional support, thus, is
provided through stories of how difficult life was for them without an
education. The idea of cultural narratives as a powerful educational tool among
Mexican American families was explored by Delgado-Gaitan (1993) through her
seven-year work with a Mexican family. Cultural narratives in the form of
"consejos" were used by parents with low education levels to encourage their
children to do well in school and to listen to their teachers.
Although migrant parents may lack access to some elements of environmental
resources, they nonetheless provide a wealth of emotional resources to their
children. Often, this grounding rests on a very strong work ethic that transfers
to other realms of life. Parents often mention the desire for their children to
have an education, something they wish they had attained themselves
(Delgado-Gaitan, 1990; Valdes, 1996; Martinez, 1997). Parent contributions are
also significant in areas that teachers might not readily recognize--for
instance, encouraging their children to be responsible citizens who not only
earn self-respect but who are ready to grant respect to others.
MIGRANT FAMILY INVOLVEMENT STRATEGIES
migrant student success can be nurtured through family involvement activities
that are sensitive to their mobile way of life and culture. The following
strategies can enhance the schooling experience for migrant students and their
families (for details see Menchaca & Ruiz-Escalante, 1995; Whitaker, Salend,
& Gutierrez, 1997; Romo, 1999; Murray & Velazquez, 2000):
Bilingual community liaisons can help bridge language and cultural differences
between home and school (i.e., they can train parents to reinforce education
concepts in the native language and/or English).
Child care, transportation, evening and weekend activities, and refreshments can
increase the likelihood of migrant parent participation.
Curriculum that reflects the culture, values, interests, experiences, and
concerns of the migrant family can enhance learning--parents can more easily
relate to such "homework" and will be more inclined to help their child with
subjects that affirm their experiences (also increasing their confidence and
Flexible instructional programming that allows students to drop out of school to
work or take care of family responsibilities and that allows them to return and
pick up their academic work without penalties can increase migrant student
Multiple, coordinated "second-chance" opportunities for education and
training-at work sites, community centers, churches, and school sites--can be
made available for both students and families.
Distance learning efforts in public computer centers can provide migrant
students and their families with continuous access to on-line links to college
and ESL courses (e.g,, Kentucky Migrant Technology Project:
Partnerships with the agriculture industry can help cultivate potential
collaborative activities that allow schools to tap into parents' knowledge,
skills, and talents through "flex time," (i.e., allowing parents to attend
school activities during work hours).
Parent-teacher conferences can give migrant parents an opportunity to express
ways they believe they can contribute to their children's education.
Social and health outreach efforts can be coordinated with local school
community involvement activities, making them less threatening to migrant
parents who are hard to reach.
Bilingual and Spanish language books in schools and public libraries can help
promote family reading at home.
Transcribed library collections of oral family histories or experiences provide
parents, grandparents, and other family members with links to school and
Bilingual community liaisons and others--secondary school advisors, advocates,
and peer and cross-age tutors or mentors--can effectively reach out to parents
and secondary school students.
Parent programs can include workshops or retreats at colleges and universities,
which would also provide an early orientation to the postsecondary education
Parent workshops that include such activities as "sharing secret talents" help
to expose untapped parent skills (e.g., singing, craftsmanship, crocheting,
etc.) that can be tapped to benefit students and schools.
Career education (in the community) and work-study positions (with parent
inclusions) promote higher aspirations among students and families.
Thinking "family" rather than just "parent" when planning involvement activities
will help ensure program effectiveness.
Involving migrant parents in their children's education is an essential
component in the educational success of migrant children. This Digest highlights
the importance of understanding migrant families' strengths, the challenges
their mobile lifestyle creates, as well as the positive contributions migrant
parents "already" make to their children's education.
Delgado-Gaitan, C. (1993). Parenting in two
generations of Mexican American families. International Journal of Behavioral
Development, 16(3), 409-27.
Delgado-Gaitan, C. (1990). Literacy for empowerment: The role of parents in
children's education. New York: The Falmer Press.
Lareau, A. (1989). Home advantage: Social class and parental intervention in
elementary education. New York: The Falmer Press.
Martinez, Y. G. (1997). Migrant farmworker families, cultural capital and
schooling: An anthropological analysis of implications for interventions.
University of South Florida, Tampa: Unpublished doctoral dissertation.
Martinez, Y. G. (1991). Educating the children of migrant agricultural
workers: An anthropological perspective. University of South Florida:
Unpublished master thesis.
Menchaca, V. D., and Ruiz-Escalante, J. A. (1995). Instructional strategies
for migrant students (ERIC Digest). Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural
Education and Small Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 388 491)
Murray, Y. I., & Velazquez, J. (2000). Promoting reading among
mexican-american children (ERIC Digest). Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Rural Education and Small Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED
Romo, H. D. (1999). Reaching out: Best practices for educating mexican-origin
children and youth. AEL, Inc., ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small
Schools: Charleston, WV. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 432 432)
Valdes, G. (1996). Con respeto: Bridging the distance between culturally
diverse families and schools: An ethnographic portrait. New York: Teachers
Whitaker, C. R., Salend, S. J., & Gutierrez, M. B. (1997). "Voices From
the Fields": Including migrant farm workers in the curriculum. The Reading
Yolanda G. Martinez, Ph.D., is a research associate at the Orange County
Health Department, Orlando, FL.
Jose A Velazquez, M.Ed., is a language arts teacher at Eagle Elementary
School in Van Horn, Texas.