Universities Take Early Intervention Approach

Conversations about closing the achievement gap for Hispanic students often center around reaching children as early as possible — in preschool, or even as toddlers.

More universities are embracing a similar mindset. They are seeking to reach students before they’ve even thought of applying to college. That means working with students and parents in high school, or even middle school.

An article in The New York Times proposes that these outreach efforts may be able to accomplish diverse universities in ways that traditional affirmative action policies cannot.

The story points to California as a case study, since it has a ban on affirmative action admissions.

“It is not enough, university administrators say, to change the way they select students; they must also change the students themselves, and begin to do so long before the time arrives to fill out applications,” says the article.

The story highlights 18-year-old Erick Ramirez, who attends Anaheim High School and was just accepted to San Francisco State University. He was able to do that through the help of representatives from the University of California, Irvine, working with him over a three-year period after school and on weekends. They focused on topics such as classwork, test prep and applying for financial aid.

According to the article, UC-Irvine spends more than $7 million a year on out reach. That includes working with low-income students. Part-time employees and college students often work with schools.

UC Irvine graduate and current employee Cristina Flores helps students attending Century High School in Santa Ana with tasks including filing out college applications. She worked with Jasmin Rodriguez, 17, who plans to attend UCLA next year.

“Without their guidance, I would have been so lost,” Jasmin told the Times. “There’s so many little things you don’t know unless someone tells you.”

Related Links:

– “In California, Diversity in College Starts Earlier,” The New York Times.

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Latino Preschoolers Show Social Strengths

Latino children may tend to begin preschool with a smaller vocabulary than white children, but some researchers say that doesn’t necessarily mean they lack social and emotional skills.

Part of that could possibly be traced back to the often warm and nurturing home environments that they come from. NPR reporter Claudio Sanchez recently reported on a University of California, Berkeley, and UCLA study  that examined 4,700 Latino children when they were between the ages of two and five years old.

“We found that Latino kids bring to school strong emotional skills and strong social skills, which means they know how to share with their peers,” said Claudia Galindo, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, about the report‘s findings. “They know how to follow instructions. They know how to listen. And one other thing that we found is that these kids are being raised in very supportive and warm family environments.”

Bruce Fuller, one of the authors and an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said that it’s a mistake to view Latino children as slow or deficient. Education policy-makers mistakenly believe that the issue is “we need to fix the parenting skills,” he told NPR

In a commentary piece in The Next America written by study authors Fuller, Galindo and Alma Guerrero, the three described the childrens’ strengths. They observed that Mexican-American kindergartners “display robust cooperative skills, respect adults, and eagerly participate in classroom tasks, whether their behavior is judged by parents or teachers.”

Despite the parents’ nurturing skills, the children lagged. The researchers noted that Mexican mothers did not read as often to their children, which held back the children’s language and cognitive skills.

Related Links:

– “Study: Latino Children Make Up for Academic Shortcomings with Strong Social Skills,” NPR.

– “Study: Mexican American Children Don’t Lag in Social Skills,” Latino Ed Beat.

– “Opinion: Mexican-American Kids Have Better Social Skills, Misunderstood by Institution,” National Journal, The Next America.

– “Mexican American toddlers lag in pre-literacy skills, but not in their social skills, new study shows,” UC Berkeley News Center.

Do We Tell Enough “Good News” Stories About Latino Children?

Writer Esther J. Cepeda takes aim at an uncomfortable truth in a recent column–the often negative tone of articles written about Latino education issues.

We know the depressing headlines and statistics about Hispanics by now: high dropout rates, low test scores, high poverty rates and so on. They are all topics that have been addressed on this blog.

“Judging by news coverage of the nation’s fastest growing ethnic minority, you’d think that “the Hispanic condition” was a pathology,” Cepeda  writes. “WIth the exception of growing power in the voting booth, the news makes it seems as though we’re all poor, sick and generally unable to cope with life as well as others.”

Journalists often become defensive when accused of only telling “negative” stories–dwelling on failures, rather than education success stories. But instead of becoming argumentative, should reporters instead be a bit more introspective?

In Cepeda’s column, she cited the example of a recent study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, finding that Mexican-American toddlers don’t lag white children in social skills.

What popped out to her most was the follow sentence from the press release about the report: “The researchers caution teachers, pediatricians and other health care providers to ‘not assume social-emotional delays, even when language or cognitive skills lag somewhat behind.”

Cepeda goes on to write that the study shows that environmental factors such as growing up in low-income environments and a lack of reading together as a family explain why the Latino children may arrive at kindergarten academically behind their white peers. It’s not that Mexican-American children are incapable of learning at high levels.

Journalists must balance telling the hard truth with providing hope that solutions exist that do work. Don’t feel that you should shy away from reporting harsh realities. You’re not doing any favors by ignoring them.

Just keep an eye out for programs and people who are improving the academic outcomes of Latino students. They are newsworthy as well.

Related Links:

– “Esther J. Cepeda: Waiting for good news on Latino education.”

– “Mexican American toddlers lag in pre-literacy skills, but not in their social skills, new study shows.” UC Berkeley News Center.

– “Study: Mexican American Children Don’t Lag in Social Skills.” Latino Ed Beat. 

$1 Million Gift to Fund Scholarships for Undocumented College Students

Many elite colleges and universities quietly are providing financial assistance to undocumented immigrant students.

But perhaps the highest profile announcement of support for such students to date came this week, when the University of California, Berkeley, announced that it had received $1 million specifically intended to support scholarships for undocumented students. University officials believe it is the largest such gift of its kind to take place at an American higher education institution.

The awards will begin in 2013.

The Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Foundation is funding the gift, saying that it will “level the playing field” for such students. Such students are not eligible for federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants, federal loans or work-study jobs.

Many states, including California offer in state tuition to undocumented immigrants. But they still struggle to pay tuition, as they do not qualify for federal financial aid. Private scholarships and in some cases state aid — such as in California –are filling the gaps. The California Dream Act of 2011 allows students to apply for and receive non-state funded private scholarships to attend public universities and also allows them to apply for and receive state-funded financial aid.

“Now that it’s legal to do so in California, we encourage other foundations and private donors to consider providing funding to help undocumented students achieve their potential,” fund president Ira S. Hischfield said in an announcement.

The university estimates that the average family income for undocumented students attending the university is $24,000. In addition, about 200 students from 20 countries are currently eligible for assistance.

A news release from the university highlighted some of the students who will benefit and the importance of such an announcement.

“Against great odds, our ‘Dreamers’ have persevered to be here at Berkeley — adding so much to this campus,” said Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau, in the release. “We are grateful for the courage of these ‘Dreamers’ and also for the courage of those who stepped forward to support them.”

The university already has an undocumented student program coordinator who works with such students. The university is also focusing on addressing other issues faced by such students, ranging from mental health resources to legal services.

In making the announcement, the university also highlighted some of the undocumented students, including the story of Uriel Rivera. He dropped out of the university because he could not afford the tuition. According to the university, he plans to return to school next semester because of new assistance provided through the state’s “Dream Act.”

Jesus Chavez shared with National Public Radio how difficult it is to afford Berkeley as an undocumented student.

“The thing about undocumented students is that if you don’t have the money, then you get registration blocks, and then you can’t add classes for the next semester or you have to drop out,” he told NPR. “So you’re constantly hustling, and it’s nonstop.”

In your communities, are universities finding ways to make college affordable for undocumented students? Are they using foundation funds to award scholarships to undocumented students? Are such students receiving such support in the way of state aid?

Related Links:

– “Nation’s single largest gift for scholarships to undocumented students announced.” UC Berkeley News Center.

– “Berkeley receives $1M for Undocumented Students.” National Public Radio.

– “Grant to aid UC Berkeley’s undocumented students.” The Los Angeles Times.

– “Leveling the Playing Field for Undocumented Students.” Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund.

Study: Mexican American Children Don’t Lag in Social Skills

Mexican-American children may significantly lag behind white children in their early language and cognitive skills–but that doesn’t mean that they are struggling with social skills, according to findings by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, published this week in the Maternal Child Health Journal.

In fact, they find that there are no distinguishable differences in social skills between the two groups, despite economic disparities. They urge that educators and others to “not assume social-emotional delays, even when language or cognitive skills lag somewhat behind.”

According to a press release from UC Berkeley, the researchers included pediatricians, psychologists and a sociologist. The findings are from a sample of 4,700 children tracked for three years between the ages of two and five.

In previous findings, researchers have discovered that concluded that Mexican American children are read to less by their parents than white children and lag in their language skills as early as age two. They also found that despite the developmental gaps, Hispanic mothers have nurturing and warm interactions with their children.

Related Links:

– “Mexican American toddlers lag in preliteracy skills, but not in their social skills, new study shows.” UC Berkeley News Center.

– “The Social Organization of Early Education: Serving Latino Children and Families.” UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education.

– “Study finds Mexican mothers nurturing, but less likely to emphasize education.” Latino Ed Beat.

– “Hispanic Immigrants’ Children Fall Behind Peers Early, Study Finds.” The New York Times.

“Abriendo Puertas” Program to Expand in Chicago

The “Abriendo Puertas” program aims to empower Hispanic parents to be their children’s first teacher. The initiative, which stands for “Opening Doors” in English, targets parents in Spanish who have children ages zero to five years old.

The Latino Policy Forum recently announced an effort to expand the program’s reach in the Chicago area. The Forum, which has offered the program since 2010, plans on training 1,000 parents in the region by the end of its third year. About 540 parents have been trained since its inception.

Nationally, the program has sites in 31 states serving more than 22,000 families. Parents learn in ten sessions about topics including nutrition, parents as advocates and communication.

The Forum has tracked the attitudes of participating parents. Among the findings:

  • About 22 percent of parents were not confident about teaching their children language before going through the program, compared with 83 percent afterwards.
  • About 18 percent of parents said they knew “little” to “nothing” about school expectations at first, compared with 74 percent after completing the program.
  • About 98.5 percent of the parents felt confident about teaching their children before they enter kindergarten, after completing the program. This included basic skills such as counting, learning colors and letters.

A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, surveyed hundreds of parent participants and found that they improved their knowledge about early learning and brain development , developing literacy and helping their children be successful at school. They also came away more confident about their parenting skills.

The Policy Forum will be offering a workshop on how to train parents from Nov. 26-28 in Chicago. The group expects 14 organizations that serve Latinos to attend, including schools districts and nonprofit groups.

Other programs focusing on Latino parents with similar parent involvement models include HIPPY and AVANCE.

Related Links:

– “Metro Chicago Latino Parent Leadership Program to Train 1,000 by End of its Third Year.” Latino Policy Forum.

– “Abriendo Puertas” Program Gives Latino Parents a Boost. Latino Ed Beat. 

– “Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors Network.” National Head Start Association. 

Report: Less than 6 Percent of Illinois Pre-K Teachers Trained to Teach ELLs

A new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that very few pre-K teachers in Illinois have been trained to teach English language learners. The study also raised further concerns with its survey results, which found that few of those educators are interested in acquiring that training.

English language learners account for one-third of Hispanic schoolchildren in the state. About 20 percent of the Illinois kindergartners are ELLs–most of whom are Spanish-speaking.

The state has made a big push for expansion of bilingual education. By 2014, the state wants state-funded, school district-based, pre-k classes with 20 or more English learners to be led by a teacher certified in either bilingual instruction or English as a second language, in addition to being trained to work with pre-K students.

The UC-Berkeley researchers surveyed 354 preschool programs and 307 educators representing  about 2,600 teachers. It encompassed programs serving nearly 65,000 students, 27 percent of whom are ELLs.

Their results show that the state’s goals have yet to match up with reality. Currently, in predominantly Latino communities, the ratio of English language learner students to trained bilingual teachers is 50 students per every one teacher.

Fewer than 6 percent of all pre-K teachers surveyed are currently are dually endorsed with bilingual/ESL and early childhood certifications, compared with about 9 percent of teachers in high-Latino communities.  The researchers conclude that this disparity raises concerns about teacher quality.

In addition, the survey shows that about 45 percent of administrators see little need for teachers to have ESL training. In heavily Latino communities, about 42 percent of administrators saw a significant need for the training. In both cases, they were reluctant because of the costs associated and the time commitment that would be required.

“…Preschool itself isn’t a silver bullet,” Margaret Bridges, a senior researcher at UC-Berkeley’s Institute of Human Development, said in a press announcement about the study. “Quality matters. And as classrooms become more diverse, the cultural and linguistic competencies of  teachers are very real factors in a child’s academic success.”

The study is part of the New Journalism on Latino Children project based at UC-Berkeley, and produced in partnership with the Illinois Early Learning Council and the Chicago-based Latino Policy Forum.

Related Links:

– “Who Will Teach Our Children? Building a Qualified Early Childhood Workforce to Teach English-Language Learners”