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Parenting Program Aimed at Latinos Helps Boost Literacy Behaviors

Latino parents of young children who attended a 10-session education program called Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors end up sticking with behaviors that are linked to child academic success, a new study finds. Those outcomes include parents reading to their children at home, taking them to the library, and being more mindful of how parent behavior sets an example for children.

The report from Child Trends, a Bethesda, Md.-based research group, marks the kickoff of the Child Trends Hispanic Institute, which the organization will use as a platform to continue current research into Latino students and launch new work. Latinos are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, expected to account for 25 percent of the nation's school population by 2020.  

Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors originated in Los Angeles and is aimed at parents of infants and children up to age 5. It's currently operating in 34 states, in many cases is administered by Head Start, and is believed to be the largest parenting program of its kind aimed at Latino parents.

Each of the program's 10 sessions is built around a "dicho," or popular saying, such as. "If you don't look forward, you stay behind." The sessions are built around those sayings, and the program takes pains to stick to a culturally relevant framework, said Sandra Gutierrez, the program's national director. That distinguishes it from other parenting education efforts that may not take into account language differences or the experience of participants who may be immigrants. (Education Week explored the program and earlier research in 2012.)

"It's co-created by parents, and it's also about honoring the parent role and their voices," Gutierrez said in an interview. "We aim to increase the parents' capacity in a way that's relevant to their day-to day life, so they can meet the goals that they have for their kids."

In the study, Child Trends tracked 922 parents of which 89 percent were born outside of the United States. About half of the group was assigned to participate in the training sessions, and that group's results were compared to those of the group that did not participate. Parent information was collected at the start of the program, five to six weeks after it ended, and 14 weeks after program completion. 

Among the findings, according to the report: 

  • Parents in the trial group read to their children at home more often after the program than the parents in the control group (an average of five times per week);
  • These parents also read with a more expressive voice and were more likely to stop and talk about the story;
  • Parents in the trial group were found to take their young children more often to the library and check out books for their children;
  • The trial-group parents also better understood their role in advocating for their child's education and serving as a role model. 

However, the program's lessons related to diet and health did not appear to have an impact on parent behavior. Abriendo Puertas also has lessons on how to foster children's emotional development, and how to become effective advocates for their child before medical, social services and school authorities, but participants reported little change in those areas.

Kristin A. Moore, the lead author of the study, noted that a relatively modest investment had an impact on some important behaviors, and behavior is traditionally quite difficult to modify. An additional study would be to see if these behaviors have an impact on student academic success. But changing parenting actions around literacy is a good first step, Moore said. 

"We all recognize that there are major disparities at a very young age in school preparation and school readiness, so the behavior here is very important," she said. 

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