Education Fairs Reach Out to Parents in Spanish

Spanish-speaking Latino parents often shy away from parent involvement programs like the PTA when many of the other members primarily speak English. For the past five years, a national Spanish-language education and college-readiness fair called the Feria Para Aprender has aimed to bridge that gap.

Radio station KUT recently reported on the fair hosted by the Austin Independent School District in Texas on Saturday. Superintendent Meria Carstarphen acknowledged that it’s difficult to reach parents when there’s a language barrier. “It is very difficult indeed to navigate the complexity of not only the AISD system for education but also for college and even after college,” she said at the event.

The Austin American-Statesman reported that about 13,000 people attended the event. The event targeted all ages and families, from pre-K to high school seniors. Exhibitors included the Girl Scouts, National Hispanic Institute, Catholic Charities and various universities.

Marisela Garcia told the newspaper that she attended because she wants her daughters to eventually go to college. “I have a daughter in high school, and I want to stress to the younger ones, who are 6 and 8, the importance of education,” she said. “I want them to have a good foundation so that they are well-prepared to continue on to college.”

The organization’s website lists which cities are hosting the fairs. Events have been held in Los Angeles and Miami as well. Even if your local school district isn’t participating, you can write about comparable efforts to reach out to parents in Spanish in the districts you cover.

Does your school district have any special education outreach programs in Spanish or targeting Hispanic families in particular? Keep an eye out for programs that are successful (or are struggling to) involve parents in their child’s education.

Republican Promotes ‘DREAM Act’ Bill Benefiting Soldiers, Not Students

First came the DREAM Act; now we’re at ARMS.

The Miami Herald reports that Florida Congressman David Rivera, R-Miami, has filed a bill proposing that undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children and serve in the military be provided a path to U.S. citizenship. He calls it ARMS, or Adjusted Residency for Military Service Act.

Unlike the DREAM act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) legislation, ARMS would not help college students.

The future of undocumented young people is shaping up to be a contentious issue in the coming presidential election. Rivera says that he developed the proposal after Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney expressed support for giving undocumented immigrants who serve in the military the opportunity to earn legal status  at Monday’s Florida GOP debate . “If somebody is willing to die for America, then certainly they deserve a chance at life in America,” Rivera told the Herald.

Romney previously declared that  he would veto the DREAM act. The act has repeatedly failed to pass in Congress since 2001.

So, are legislators in your state floating similar ideas? It’s worth checking on.

Meanwhile, this week President Obama renewed his support for a path to U.S. citizenship for undocumented immigrant college students and armed services members in his State of the Union speech. He included it in a section calling for immigration reform. The president has been under increasing heat from Latino leaders upset by the rising number of deportations.

I found it interesting that he did not refer to the DREAM Act by name in his speech. Here’s that part of his speech from Tuesday:

“Let’s also remember that hundreds of thousands of talented, hardworking students in this country face another challenge: The fact that they aren’t yet American citizens. Many were brought here as small children, are American through and through, yet they live every day with the threat of deportation…”

He went on to add:

“We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now. But if election-year politics keeps Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, and defend this country. Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign it right away.”

Defending undocumented immigrant college students is a risky stance to take in today’s political environment. When Texas governor Rick Perry defended his state’s policy on in-state tuition for undocumented immigrant students while running for the Republican nomination, he came under heavy fire. It proved deadly to his viability as a presidential candidate.

Academy Award Nomination Highlights Challenges Immigrant Families Face

Perhaps the biggest surprise Oscar nomination on Tuesday was Demián Bichir in the best actor category for his portrayal of a Mexican undocumented immigrant.

In the film “A Better Life,” Bichir plays Carlos Galindo, a single father and gardener in Los Angeles struggling to build a brighter future for his American-born teen-aged son Luis. Carlos works long hours, hoping to save money to move to a neighborhood with a better school, so he isn’t around much to parent his son. Luis is losing interest in school and begins to skip classes and hang around gang members.

The movie traces the pursuit of the American dream, and shows how difficult it can be to obtain. It also addresses the emotional drama that unfolds when undocumented immigrant parents are deported and their children are left behind in the United States. This is a very timely issue since deportations reached the highest level in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement history in fiscal year 2011.

Like the characters Carlos and Luis, many immigrants live in “mixed-status” families. Researchers at  the Pew Hispanic Center estimate that about 9 million people are in families that include at least one undocumented immigrant adult and at least one American-born child. The center estimates that the number of children with at least one undocumented parent has doubled since 2000.

As reporters, our goal should not just be to write about policy or test scores. Placing a human face on issues is also important. Admittedly, immigration is a tough topic to write about when so many immigrants are afraid to have their names printed in the newspaper.

How does a young person cope when their parent is deported? And when a parent is deported, how is it decided whether the children should remain in the United States or leave? If they stay, what is the impact on their emotional state and schooling?

I watched the movie just last weekend. Be forewarned, it’s a tearjerker.

Students Living in Mexico Cross Border to Attend U.S. Schools

They are known as transfronterizos: children living in Mexico who cross the border into the United States daily to attend public schools.

Students who use false addresses to gain access to better schools are a common problem in many school districts, but these students in particular have sparked controversy over the costs to U.S. taxpayers. Patricia Leigh Brown of The New York Times recently reported on students living in Tijuana, Mexico, who attend a high school in Chula Vista, California.

The story notes that some of the  teens–who were born in California and are American citizens–rise as early as 3 a.m. to make the hours-long journey to school. As a result, they struggle to keep awake in class. Many of their teachers are sympathetic to their challenges.

The students themselves seem to have mixed emotions about the situation.

“It’s stressful,” Martha, a high school senior, told the Times. “You can get found out and kicked out of school. Sometimes I feel bad for lying. But I’m just going to school.”

It’s interesting to note that undocumented immigrant children attending American schools–which is legal– spark similar controversy over the costs to taxpayers. But unlike most of the transfronterizos, the parents of undocumented immigrant students often do pay property taxes if they reside within a district.

Even when the children are Americans, is it fair to allow transfronterizos to attend U.S. schools? And because the reporter describes how exhausted the children are by the time they arrive at school, I’m curious about their graduation rates and what becomes of them after high school.

Missouri Legislator Wants State to Check Students’ Immigration Status

By federal law, children who are undocumented immigrants are entitled to a free public education, but in several states lawmakers nevertheless are pursuing policies to count exactly how many of these children are enrolled in schools.

Alabama and Arizona already have passed laws requiring schools to check students’ immigration status though courts have blocked the implementation. Now Jason Hancock of the Kansas City Star reports  that Missouri State Sen. Will Kraus, a Republican, has proposed a bill that would require schools to check students’ immigration status. The children would be asked to provide birth certificates or other proof of legal residency.

My question is, do these efforts constitute an attempt to chip away at the precedent set by the 1982 Plyler v. Doe Supreme Court decision? Plyler established that public schools must educate all children, regardless of immigration status.

In 2010, when I reported on some Texas politicians’ desire to track students’ immigration status for The Dallas Morning News, a representative of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund raised concerns that checking status violates the Plyler decision. He argued that the action intimidates families and could result in children being kept out of school.

“There’s no educational purpose,” MALDEF attorney David Hinojosa told me. “It’s very mean-spirited and leads nowhere.”

In Alabama, many students didn’t show up for class after that state’s law was initially passed.

Kraus told the Star he just wants the information so he can gauge how much the students’ education, including special programs such as English language learner instruction, costs the state and taxpayers. The article notes that schools would turn over data to the General Assembly in a report. Students’ identities would not be revealed.

“This is simply an attempt to track non-citizens in public schools in order to get an accurate set of data,” Kraus said.

Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, complaints about the cost of educating undocumented immigrant children resulted in Texas allowing school districts to charge these students tuition to attend school in the 1970s. Many low-income families couldn’t afford this expense. The Plyler decision stopped these practices in Texas.

Make sure you’re watching the bills coming up in your state legislatures to see if politicians in your state are pushing similar proposals.

Introducing New Blogger Katherine Leal Unmuth

I am an education reporter by profession, but my passion for Latino education issues is fueled by my family history.

In the first half of the twentieth century, Mexican-American children in Texas faced many challenges when it came to obtaining a quality education. My grandmother Dahlia was born in an era when Mexican-Americans like herself were segregated from whites in many settings and often attended substandard schools. At age 14, she dropped out of the public San Antonio high school she attended, and soon after that she married my grandfather Alonzo, who never completed elementary school.

Her educational narrative was not unusual for Latinos during this era. Those significant challenges persisted when my mother was a child in the 1950s. She was lucky enough to receive a scholarship to attend the private Catholic Incarnate Word High School in San Antonio, and she later earned a degree in medical record administration from Incarnate Word College. My mother still marvels at the fact she earned a college degree when few other Mexican-Americans in her generation did so.

The fact that my mother overcame challenges to obtain a higher education also has influenced my sister Natalie, a third-grade teacher. My mother likes to say that I report the war, while my sister fights on the front lines!

Because my mother’s family was able to overcome poverty to receive an education, I have hope that today’s generation of young Hispanic children can do the same. I believe that education is the greatest civil rights issue of our generation.

I worked for six years as an education reporter at The Dallas Morning News and two years covering higher education at The Wichita Eagle. I have written about bilingual and English language learner education. In Kansas and Texas, I wrote about controversies over state laws granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. I profiled a young man who moved to the United States from El Salvador as a child and went on to attend Harvard University.

I am dedicated to chronicling the Hispanic-American experience.

Does the ‘English Language Learner’ Label Help or Hurt Students?

Would a student who speaks English but whose parents speak Spanish be better or worse off being labeled an English language learner?

It’s a dilemma the Fronteras Desk, a new multimedia collaborative from seven public radio stations in the Southwest, portrays in an article and video about such students.

The article points out that the schools say students from homes where parents speak Spanish have limited English vocabulary and need the extra help. But parents worry that their children will be labeled and segregated from their peers. In addition, parents fear their kids will miss out on other opportunities, such as gifted programs.

It’s a story worth exploring. And it might extend beyond California. What is your school district’s policy about defining qualifications for English-language learning classes? Does the label segregate students unfairly?

Ban of an Ethnic Studies Program in Arizona Sparks Debate

One of the challenges presented by the growing diversification of the country’s student population is how best to incorporate culturally relevant material into the standard curriculum. Educational research and classroom evidence show that students are more engaged and learn better when they can personally relate to the subject matter. For example, if students in a class are predominantly Latino, stories about Sally and Bob probably won’t grab their attention as well as stories about Marisol and Joaquin.

However, there also is debate over whether a culturally relevant curriculum can end up promoting resentment and reinforcing social stratification. That debate is at the heart of an ongoing controversy in Arizona, where the Tucson school district’s ethnic studies program has been under fire. Last week, an Arizona administrative law judge ruled that the program violates a state law banning divisive ethnic studies classes, backing an earlier ruling by the state’s superintendent of public instruction.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Arizona public schools chief John Huppenthal had concluded that the program violated the law, which bans classes primarily designed for a particular ethnic group or that “promote resentment toward a race or class of people.” A Huffington Post piece notes that “Huppenthal has 30 days to accept, reject or modify the ruling. If he accepts the judge’s decision, the district has about 30 days to appeal the ruling in Superior Court.”

Opponents say such programs promote victimhood; advocates say they simply teach parts of American history and culture left out of the mainstream curriculum.

A pending case in federal court challenges the constitutionality of the state law, and a group of teachers and students have requested an injunction to stop an implementation of the ban.

Regardless of the outcome, the Arizona controversy highlights the difficulty of adjusting the curriculum to match student demographics. If school districts in your area are creating ethnic studies programs, how are they balancing the offerings? Have there been protests or concerns on either side? What evidence – anecdotal or research-based –have you found that the programs help or hurt students?

On a side note, this will be my last post for the Latino Ed Beat, as I am returning to the newsroom full-time as an education reporter for the Houston Chronicle. Thanks for reading my thoughts on education coverage. I hope you’ll continue to check the blog for ideas and inspiration. I know I will.