Who Is Involved and How Have They Organized?
There are a number of organizations working to engage Latino parents in their children’s schooling. In Boston, some such organizations are: Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, La Alianza Hispana, Sociedad Latina, and East Boston Ecumenical Community Council. Nationally, some such organizations are: La Familia Initiative in San Francisco, Latino Youth Development Collaborative in Minneapolis, Con Mi Madre in Austin, and Instituto del Progreso Latino in Chicago.
These organizations all support Latino parents—through meetings, trainings, curricular programming, counseling, and/or mentoring—in order to build leadership skills, expose them to their children’s academic experiences, and teach them the ins-and-outs of the public school system so that they can better participate in and advocate for their children’s education.
The organizations take a strengths-based approach to working with Latino families; that is, they focus on showing parents how their cultural differences are assets to their children’s education, rather than making parents feel that their children’s home life is an obstruction to success in their school life. With bilingual programming run by Latino staff, the organizations are connected and accessible to the communities they serve, making families feel comfortable in engaging with school-related issues.
While the organizations studied here do much for improving Latino parent engagement, they also work on several intersecting issues. For example, all of the organizations support student academic achievement at the same time that they support parent engagement. Through tutoring, afterschool, academic enrichment, and mentorship programs, the organizations work with Latino students to promote their educational aspirations. In addition, the organizations all offer some form of English classes to both parents and children. Supporting ELLs in this way is a crucial step in giving families the tools they need to advocate for themselves in schools. Lastly, the organizations tend to stress civic engagement by helping parents build the skills they need to make their voices heard not only in schools, but in their community as a whole.
Parents’ busy work schedules make it difficult for them to stay involved in organizing work. In addition, turnover in leadership within grassroots organizations can prevent them from maintaining momentum. Another major challenge is that teachers and administrators may not always recognize their role in making parents, particularly ELL and immigrant parents, feel comfortable engaging with the school. Organizations are quick to involve parents, but reaching out to change the schools themselves requires intense effort, due to layers of bureaucracy.
Effects of Organizing and Impact on Those Involved
Organizations have seen gains in youth academic achievement and in parent engagement. For example, Sociedad Latina boasts that 406 families graduated from Sociedad Latina’s parent engagement program, Padres Comprometidos, in the 2015-2016 school year. In the same year, 97% of youth enrolled in its programs graduated from middle or high school, showing the potential for organizations to engage parents and witness improvements in youth achievement.
Further, parent participants in organizational programming have reported positive changes including: improved understanding of their children’s school system, greater confidence in approaching teachers and administrators, increased involvement in their children’s academic pursuits when at home (i.e. helping with homework) and at school (i.e. participation in cultural events).