Latino immigrant children make up a large and growing portion of the U.S. population, motivating research into how to effectively educate them. Joan M.T. Walker examines the impact of Realizing the American Dream (RAD), a parent education program, on Latino parents’ school-involvement. Erin Sibley & Kalina Brabeck track the challenges that Latino immigrant students face and offer solutions based in family-school-community connections.
The authors observe higher levels of Latino parent involvement at home than at school. Parents hold high expectations for their children and want to be involved in their education, but face linguistic, cultural, economic, and legal barriers to their school involvement (Sibley & Brabeck, 2017). Adopting “a deficit model” (Walker, 2016, p. 346), schools operating “from a White, American perspective” often misinterpret parent responses to these barriers as disengagement (Sibley & Brabeck, 2017, p. 144).
Sibley & Brabeck also observe that immigrant parents tend to “incur high levels of migratory debt,” and must take on jobs that limit their ability to invest time in their children’s education (Sibley & Brabeck, 2017, p. 141). Undocumented parents, in particular, tend to face “psychological distress” due to the economic hardships that come with their legal status, which can affect their children’s mental health (Sibley & Brabeck, 2017, p. 143).
The authors agree that given the many obstacles Latino immigrant children face, schools should partner with families to support children’s educational development, as such partnerships benefit student achievement. Walker (2016) notes that increased parent-teacher communication can shape “teachers’ perceptions of and expectations for students,” addressing biases that teachers may hold (p. 344). Sibley & Brabeck (2017) underscore the importance of tackling these biases. They argue that because obligation to family and connection to others tend to be strengths among Latino families, it makes sense to prioritize family-school-community relationships.
The authors agree that parent-school interactions should occur from a “strengths-based perspective,” viewing cultural differences as positive and valuing Latino parents’ ways of supporting their children at home (Sibley & Brabeck, 2017, p. 149). Sibley & Brabeck (2017) recommend that teachers conduct home visits and hold conferences in parents’ neighborhoods to improve Latino parent engagement. Teachers should extend their meeting hours to address the difficult work schedules of immigrant parents, and schools should employ social workers who can connect families to resources to relieve immigration-related stress (Sibley & Brabeck, 2017). “Full-service community school models that provide health care, academic support, mental health, and material support” offer a comprehensive solution to the disconnect between schools and the families they serve (Sibley & Brabeck, 2017, p. 149).
Walker draws conclusions based on the parent education program, RAD. Like Sibley & Brabeck, Walker recognizes the importance of meeting parents where they are. RAD is taught in both Spanish and English by facilitators of similar backgrounds to parent participants. Classes focus on teaching parents their important role as partners in their children’s educations and helping parents implement academic success plans for their children (Walker, 2016). Latino immigrant participants report increased knowledge of how to approach school interactions and increased belief in the value of home-based learning (Walker, 2016). These results support the implementation of parent education programs that show Latino parents how they can be involved in their children’s education.