Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mother-Daughter Program Helps Hispanics Texas Nonprofit Effort Aims at Keeping At-Risk Girls in School by Involving Mothers in Their Daughters' Education

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mother-Daughter Program Helps Hispanics Texas Nonprofit Effort Aims at Keeping At-Risk Girls in School by Involving Mothers in Their Daughters' Education

Article excerpt

WHEN Rosa Juarez lost her factory job in 1986, she felt herself slipping into the sticky quagmire of poverty. Her greatest concern was that her two children would sink with her.

"We had to be embarrassed to get food stamps," Ms. Juarez recalls. "I'd come home crying because they'd treat you so bad. I'd tell my kids, `get an education so you never, never have to go through this.' "

Today, Juarez is a college graduate and fourth-grade bilingual education teacher in her hometown of El Paso, Texas. Both her children have excelled in school. The older, Jessica, beat the odds for poor, Hispanic girls by graduating from high school last spring as an honor student and cheerleader, voted the best all-around female student in her class by the school's faculty. She entered the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) this fall.

What changed the lives of the Juarez family is the Mother-Daughter Program, a collaborative effort begun in 1986 by volunteers from UTEP, several El Paso school districts, and the YWCA to direct poor, Hispanic girls toward higher education and professional careers.

The program targets sixth-graders from low socioeconomic backgrounds who have no college graduates in their families to serve as role models. The girls' mothers are an integral part of the program, because of the strong influence that Hispanic mothers have on their children's decisionmaking. Volunteer effort at first

Volunteers started the Mother-Daughter Program and kept it going for two years, until they received their first grants from the Gannett Foundation (now Freedom Forum) and the Meadows Foundation. Southwestern Bell, AT&T, and local funding sources have since pitched in to keep the program alive.

Josefina Tinajero, director of the Mother-Daughter Program and one of its founders, is a professor of education at UTEP. She recently received a W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant to evaluate the program's success and to develop materials that other communities can use in creating similar programs. But the program continues to rely on the efforts of volunteers.

Motivating these efforts is a deep concern about Hispanic girls in this country. Dr. Tinajero describes Hispanic females as the most at-risk of all students in the United States. In Texas, 43 percent of Hispanic girls drop out before finishing high school; that number climbs to more than 60 percent in some communities.

Tinajero points to the long tradition of Hispanic women staying home to care for their families as one reason for this educational inequity.

"But the truth is," Tinajero says, "that 54 percent of Hispanic women are now working outside the home. The idea that women can stay home is a myth today. They'll have to work, so we want to have them prepared with education."

The Mother-Daughter Program began that preparation with 33 sixth-graders and their mothers seven years ago. Since then, the program has had 150 new participants each year. According to Tinajero, the decision to work with sixth-graders is vital, since kids begin to form their decisions about staying in school as early as the elementary grades.

The program is designed to track the girls' progress through their first year of college. A hoped-for expansion program to involve the girls in activities beyond the sixth grade hasn't been put in place because of lack of funding, however. Still, informal contact with many of the mothers and daughters has continued.

Tinajero and her associate director, Tita Yanar, are Hispanic women who grew up together in an El Paso housing project. …

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