" Through their study of La Familia, the authors present a strategic plan for other Latino families to get organized and help their children succeed later in school and in life. La Familia -- parents of middle school children that had not been performing well in school -- began with small meetings in the homes of parents (conducted entirely in Spanish) and as trust was established among the parents, they created a "working partnership with the school" (Jasis, 2004, p. 38). "Convivencia" means "…the flowing moments of collective creation and solidarity" -- and in the case of La Familia, convivencia also brought a "bonding" that was built from an "…emerging moral quest" to help children become better students, Jasis relates (p. 39). The group began as a "self-affirming" activist assemblage, and moved from there into a "desvelamiento critico" (critical unveiling) of reality (p. 41).
The group avoided "political posturing" during their interactions with the school, and in fact the Latino parents believed, Jasis continues on page 39, that "…their views of the school had to be reconciled with the teacher's views and ideas." Mrs. Gutierrez, a La Familia member, said that she personally learned to have "more communication with the teachers" and learned through that communication that "sometimes our children don't treat them with respect" (p. 39-40).
Over the first two years of La Familia there was a vast improvement in communication and understanding between Latino parents and the school. But what were the academic results? On page 40 Jasis references the principal of this school, who explained that after two years "there were three Latino students among the top ten" on the honor roll. No Latino student in the past "had ever shared that honor" (p. 40). Granted, La Familia emerged around a middle school, but the concept is ideally suited for elementary school parents as well.
Empirical Study Shows Latino Parents' Concerns
Latino children who attend elementary schools in rural communities are "confronted with a variety of positive and negative experiences" (Villalba, et al., 2007, p. 510). But when teachers and counselors engage in "an egalitarian dialogue with Latino parents and children," that interaction can help "…pinpoint educational obstacles and related interventions, which may contribute to the success of an entire community," Villalba explains. The research conducted by Villalba and colleagues took place in a rural southeastern community in the U.S., where educators have been "caught off guard by the influx of Latino children…into their schools," Villalba explains (p. 506). The need for the study was based on Villalba's research that shows school personnel working in the "…rural Latino diaspora" are "ill-equipped to address barriers to academic and personal/social development of Latino children" (p. 506).
Villalba conducted in-depth interviews (in Spanish) with nine Latino parents (3 males, 6 females); all had children attending local elementary schools. The parents were asked: a) what are the school needs of your children? b) what resources and activities are offered to your children, and how effective are they? c) what are the differences between Latino children and their non-Latin peers? Latino parents provided 159 different responses to these questions, Villalba reports. Some of the answers revealed: a) high levels of stress in classroom competition; b) transition problems between elementary and middle school; c) schools do not let "que los ninos sean ninos" (children be children); d) schools "unfairly penalize Latino children" (especially those with limited English proficiency); and e) schools are formal, hence a sense of "frildad" (coldness) makes it different from more informal schools in Mexico.
Garcia, Carolyn, Skay, Carol, Sieving, Renee, Naughton, Sandy, and Bearinger, Linda H. (2008).
Family and racial factors associated with suicide and emotional distress among Latino students. Journal of School Health, 78(9), 487-496.