Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Creating a College-Going Culture: A Family Science Program That Motivates Disadvantaged Students

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Creating a College-Going Culture: A Family Science Program That Motivates Disadvantaged Students

Article excerpt


The atrium at Falfurrias High School, a rural school in Falfurrias, Texas, is filled with tables, projects, people, and--most important--excitement. It has been a long time since people here gathered like this. Discovery of oil and gas reserves significantly increased the population of this ranching community in the 1930s and 1940s; but now, oil and gas pumps sit rusting and motionless, the majority of homes are boarded and empty, few jobs are available, and the atmosphere is one of defeat. But not tonight--tonight, the excitement is palpable as kindergarten- through college-age students gather at Falfurrias High School to learn science with their families.

Family Science

Through a Department of Education--funded partnership, I helped science teachers at Falfurrias High School implement a Family Science event in their school. We held these events three times a semester on weekdays from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., so that parents could attend after work. Local middle and elementary school students and their families were invited to join the events.

Since my university, Texas A&M--Corpus Christi (TAMU--CC), began hosting Family Science events with local schools in the fall of 2006, approximately 2,500 elementary and middle school students, 800 preservice science teachers, and 3,000 family members have participated. This article describes the program and how it was modified in 2009 for Falfurrias High School--a rural, primarily Hispanic school--to motivate students to attend college.

Rural students

High school science students, particularly those in rural and low socioeconomic areas, often complain that science is boring, extraneous, and complicated. Many think science does not apply to them--they do not see its relevance to their daily lives.

Students in rural areas may also have negative attitudes about their communities. Herzog and Pittman (1995) argue that modern American society does not value rural environments or the economically disadvantaged, creating prejudices against these populations. Rural students and those from low socioeconomic households sometimes internalize these prejudices, exhibiting feelings of inferiority about their origins. As a result, these students may lack the motivation to attend college because they feel disassociated from it (King 1996; Demi, Coleman-Jensen, and Snyder 2010).

Parental involvement

Research indicates that increased parental involvement has a positive impact on student achievement, especially among Hispanic students (Zarate 2007; NSTA 2010). However, parental involvement in the education process is not common in Hispanic families, as many parents believe that the educative role belongs only to educators (Valdes 1996; Barton et al. 2004).

Although policy makers and educators agree that parental involvement is critical, schools often struggle to create effective partnerships with poor, minority parents. As Hispanic enrollment increases in the United States, the ability to forge meaningful parental relationships involves overcoming challenges--such as differences in language and cultural understandings--while encouraging the pursuit of postsecondary education (Gandara 2005).

About Falfurrias High School

In 2009, Falfurrias High School had a 93% Hispanic and 94% economically disadvantaged student population. The school had programs designed to bridge college-bound gaps, such as GEAR UP and Communities in Schools, but most students did not participate. One motivation problem--identified by science teachers--was that parents were not encouraging students to attend college. This is significant, since research indicates that parents' educational expectations exert the strongest influence on a student's decision to pursue college (Smith, Beaulieu, and Seraphine 2010).

Students with high intelligence are less likely to attend college or aspire to a college education if they come from families of low socioeconomic status, are members of disadvantaged racial groups, or live in rural areas (Demi, Coleman-Jensen, and Snyder 2010). …

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