Improving Latino parent participation in schools
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04/27/09 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Monday | Listen to this entire show:

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As more immigrant students enter public schools in the United States, some parents feel disconnected from participation in their schools. A symposium in Tampa today brought together educators, parents, and community organizations from more than 20 Florida counties to increase the involvement by Latino parents in public schools.

The Third Annual Parent Involvement Research to Practice Symposium was sponsored by Florida PIRC – Parental Information and Resource Center at the University of South Florida. Their director, Mari Fernandez, says it focuses on enhancing parental involvement in education.

“Florida has a very large influx of Latino families in the public schools. And often educators are having difficulty appropriately handling what that means. … Our goal is to help translate research into practice.”

The symposium included small discussion groups which then reported back to everyone. Fernandez says it important to involve all of the participants in order to disseminate best practices.

Edward Olivos facilitated the symposium featuring more than 200 participants. He is assistant professor of Teacher Education at the University of Oregon. Olivos points out that there’s often a seamless relationship between events in the community and what goes on in the schools, using the example of the Latino student walk-outs for immigration reform in Los Angeles on May Day in 2007.

Olivos wants to dispel the myth that Latino parents don’t want to be involved in their children’s schools and he put forward some alternative explanations for lower involvement: “Time, transportation, and what we call the language barrier.”

Part of the problem could be how parent involvement in education is defined, according to Olivos, who thinks the concept could be expanded to include more kinds of involvement.

“Most of these are centered on individuals – as in a parent helping their child. … But how does it affect the whole school?”

In the 1990s Latinos became the largest non-white ethnic group in Florida, and now make up more than 24 percent of students, according to 2007 data from SchoolDataDirect.org. Otis Anthony is senior director of diversity for the Polk County School District and is the host of the Sunday Forum on WMNF.

“We need to prepare our teachers, our educators, and our administrators to deal with all of the issues that come with that: culture, language, parent involvement, etc.”

Lesleigh Lopez works for Hillsborough County Public Schools in their leadership acculturation center and office of programs for English language learners. She says that several factors contribute to the academic success of students and with their families making a connection with the school district.

“What we’re trying to do is really reach out to the communities … so that future planning -- not just survival – begins to take place.”

Florida PIRC

Latino Parents in the Public Schools: Critical Perspectives on Their Involvement

Hillsborough County Public Schools

University of Oregon Teacher Education

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