Few phrases make parents more proud. For many parents, planning for their children’s higher education commences before they enter high school.
But some families face more barriers than others.
Among the biggest hurdles facing our nation’s Latino immigrant families? Researchers at UNCG have found that parents who experience language barriers – or don’t understand how U.S. schools work – don’t know how to best participate in their children’s education, even if they have big dreams for them.
Since her arrival at UNCG in 2009, Dr. Laura Gonzalez has focused on understanding the Latino immigrant community and using what she learns to help parents and their children. The associate professor in the Department of Counseling and Educational Development began collaborating with Dr. Gabriella Stein, associate professor of clinical psychology. Their interviews with Latino adolescents about their experiences in schools and at home informed Gonzalez’s current outreach program, Padres Promoviendo Preparación.
Talking with more than 100 students individually and conducting focus groups with about 20 parents produced a consistent storyline: Parents want to be more involved with their children’s education but are not familiar with the U.S. educational system. At the same time, children wish for more assistance from their parents but understand their limitations.
“Latino parents are in this unusual bind where maybe they moved to this country hoping for better futures for themselves and their kids, so emotionally they’re very supportive,” says Gonzalez. “But as far as understanding how to help their kids get there, they don’t know the steps.”
Starting in 2012, the first phase of the program consisted of a two-year pilot for parents in several locations, including Asheboro City Schools and the Latino Family Center of Greater High Point. It was funded by the College Access Challenge Grant Program and UNCG’s Coalition for Diverse Language Communities.
Gonzalez, fluent in Spanish with help from her husband, a native speaker, shared teaching duties with Donna Weaver, Spanish language coordinator for the College Foundation of North Carolina.
When the two realized their teaching style was “too wordy,” their approach changed.
“It became more interactive and more personal, with less focus on passing along information and more on community building and getting comfortable with one another,” Gonzalez says.
Gonzalez continues to refine that approach in nearby Winston-Salem, where the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust has provided three years of funding for Padres Promoviendo Preparación.
Since 2014, the program has reached more than 100 families in Forsyth County. Group facilitation is provided by teachers, pastors and others as part of efforts to prepare community partners to continue the program after UNCG’s involvement ends.
“There are few programs out there focusing on Latino parents currently,” Gonzalez says. But that’s changing. “We’ve had inquiries from people in other states, interested in replicating what we are doing.”
This post was adapted from a UNCG Research Magazine story written by contributor Chris Burritt. To read the full story and more, click here.
Photography by Jenna Schad