Hitting the Books-Together: Through a Family Literacy Program, Hispanic Parents and Their Young Children Are Learning to Be Partners in Educational Success

By Silverman, Fran | District Administration, July 2004 | Go to article overview

Hitting the Books-Together: Through a Family Literacy Program, Hispanic Parents and Their Young Children Are Learning to Be Partners in Educational Success


Silverman, Fran, District Administration


Over the course of one school year, Teresa Moran has gone from a concerned yet helpless parent to an active participant in her children's education.

Last school year, Moran was struggling to communicate with her second grade son, Robert, about how he was doing in his Los Angeles school. Moran, who immigrated to the area from Mexico 12 years ago, spoke very little English and could not help her son with his homework or discuss any educational concerns with his teacher.

This year, Moran, a 37-year-old mother of four, is spending time with Robert in his classroom at Sixty-Sixth Street Elementary School. And she now knows enough English to help him with his math and writing assignments

Moran is one of more than 60 families participating in L.A.'s Toyota Family Literacy Program, which is aimed at helping Hispanic students and their parents improve their language skills.

Sponsored by the Toyota Motor Corp. and the National Center for Family Literacy, the program began in September in Los Angeles, as well as Chicago, the District of Columbia, Providence and New York City. Each district is receiving $225,000 over a three-year period, with an additional $125,000 being retained by NCFL for support services, such as teacher training and technical assistance.

"We know right now that the Latino-Hispanic population has the highest drop-out rate of any minority," says Sharon Darling, president and founder of the National Center for Family Literacy. "Now they are the largest minority, so it really is a challenge to make sure that we provide educational opportunities for their success." Hispanic immigrants, who often have had little formal education in their own country, are the hardest segment to reach.

At-Risk in L.A.

Los Angeles is tops in two areas that put its students at a disadvantage overall: It has the highest rate of under-educated adults in any major metro area, and it has the largest Hispanic population for a U.S. city. Currently 4.2 million Hispanics reside in the city, and more than 3.6 million residents of the city are foreign born.

Among the eight L.A. schools that applied for the program, three were chosen by the district to receive grants. The schools--Sixty-Sixth Street Elementary, Meyler Elementary and Murchison Street Elementary--have the highest Hispanic populations within file district and the highest percentage of students eligible for free lunch. At each site, classroom teachers with ESL students involved in the program work with the school's parent educator (who addresses discipline and social issues with parents) and an adult ESL educator.

Program Coordinator Leandra Woods says the grants helped the district expand a previously established literacy program aimed at pre-school children to school-age children and their parents. That program is similar in that it brings parents and children together, but it's not specifically for Hispanic parents.

The new grant also helps bridge a gap between the district's 20 adult English language education programs and its elementary bilingual programs. "Adult school teachers may not be aware of the elementary school environment," Woods says. When these two groups interact, it helps everyone to focus on how to support families.

With the Hispanic family literacy program, parents (who are mainly stay-at-home moms):

* Attend English language classes for several hours a day

* Observe their children in their elementary classes once or twice each week. This provides awareness for what their children are learning and enables them to understand the lesson's vocabulary so they can help the children practice at home.

* Spend time with their children on field trips and at school to work on homework or projects

* Attend parenting classes to discuss issues ranging from nutrition to discipline to standardized tests.

Culture Shock To Education Rock

Helping Hispanic families to be partners in their children's education typically starts by answering the question, "Why?

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