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Involving Hispanic Parents in Schools

It's widely accepted that parental involvement plays a powerful role in children's achievement. That's why it's encouraging to learn about Abriendo Puertas (Opening Doors) because Hispanic students across the country trail black and white students in reading and math, and their numbers are growing. ("Hispanics Get Help Giving Their Kids a Boost," The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 6). In California, Texas and New Mexico, for example, they already constitute more than half of all students enrolled.

There are several reasons for the disparity, including parents' limited English, lack of formal education and poverty. When I was teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the number of Hispanic students in my high school soared. My English classes became disproportionately filled with these students. They were eager to learn, but they often needed additional help. Although I'm bilingual, I was frustrated trying to schedule parental conferences because so many Hispanic parents worked two jobs. Phone calls late in the evening were better than nothing at all, but they rarely sufficed.

As Abriendo Puertas correctly tells parents, they are their children's first teacher and their home is their children's first school. The national program, which began in 2008 on a pilot basis, is now in operation in 31 states. Its free 10-week course offered in weekly two-hour sessions has reached some 25,000 families. In cities with large Hispanic populations, Abriendo Puertas can mean the difference between success and failure for students. I hope that similar programs will open.

However, I'd like to make one suggestion: Don't assume that Hispanics are a monolith. Although sixty percent of Hispanic students identify themselves as Mexican, they do not constitute the entirety of those who are termed Hispanic ("Hispanics Extend Reach Beyond Enclaves," The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 20). As a result, what works well with parents from one country will not necessarily work with those from another country. Attitudes, values, customs and traditions differ. That's why it's so important to employ leaders of these programs who are familiar with, and sensitive to, the differences.

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