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Especially for Latino Parents: Get Involved with your Teens

By Mariela Dabbah [Guest Article]

High school is a very difficult time for kids, and even more so if they were not raised in this country. At this age, adolescents are more independent, they are searching for their identity, their need to belong to a group is exacerbated, and they are willing to try different things. They are also more susceptible to bad influences. All good reasons for you to remain involved in their education and in their lives even when teenagers are reluctant to allow their parents to have an opinion about anything.

One of the areas you should be involved in is the balance between your children’s social life and their school work. As important as it is to encourage kids to spend time with other youngsters, high school is also a time to focus on hard work. Grades are increasingly important for your kids to have more opportunities to go to the colleges they choose and to get scholarships.

 Dabbah

Identifying Mentors

Another area in which you should get involved is in finding mentors for your children. (Mentors are people who guide and help others along the way.) If you can’t guide your kids through high school as much as you would like to, help them find people who can. It can be someone in your family or the family of one of your children’s friends. Look for a person who understands the education system well and ask him or her to help you with your children’s questions. You may also want to identify several people who have interesting careers and occupations about which your children may want to learn more. There’s nothing better for students to get a clear picture of what a job entails than spending some time with a person who is doing that job. If you can’t identify a mentor for your child, don’t worry. In most communities there are several mentoring programs that you can tap into, like Big Brothers and Big Sisters for example. You can also find many mentoring programs through a Guide to Mentor Program Listings.

You should also talk to your child’s guidance counselor or school principal and ask for suggestions. If you don’t get a satisfactory answer, visit your local library and talk to the librarian.

Remember that developing a close relationship with adults who serve as mentors is a great way for children to stay the course, and many times, it’s easier for kids to listen to adults who are not their parents. Just make sure you know the adults well before you trust them with your kids.

Keeping Communication Channels Open

Being involved with your children’s education means that you should consider being a PTA member just as when your children were younger. It also means that you have to maintain as open a dialog with your kids as possible. The more you talk to them, the more you listen to them, the more in-tune you are with their activities, their obligations, and their concerns, the less likely it will be that your children will get into trouble. “There are some family values that are escaping many American families at this time, but that still exist in other countries,” explains Mr. Strange from Cherry Valley-Springfield Junior Senior High School.“Families need to eat dinner together. They need a time, a place, and a reason to sit down and talk and this should be the rule and not the exception. I blame the TV and the microwave for this change, and I also blame our obsession with keeping kids busy since it is often this continual activity treadmill that denies parents the quality time they need to be spending directly with their children.”

In the last few years there has been a lot of research connecting the increase risk factors in children who live in homes where the family doesn’t have a meal together every day. The Latino culture values food and family so much, that if this is a tradition that got lost in your home, you should try to reinstate it as soon as possible. Make sure the entire family sits for dinner every night— keep the TV off to encourage conversation and take the opportunity to share what the day was like for each one of you. Get in the habit of telling each other stories.

Marcela Hoffer, a clinical social worker, suggests that keeping an open dialog is not only about talking: “If parents realize that their kid loves baseball for example, they should sit down with them to watch a game. If they share an interest, even without talking, the child will feel understood and not alone.”

Choosing Courses

In order for students to get all the necessary credits for graduation, they need to have a plan. Your mission should be to get involved in the plan early on in order to help them meet the graduation requirements.

By looking together at the list of course offerings, you can discuss with your children the different possibilities. For example, if the school requires two credits of history or social studies, they may be able to choose between American History, World History, Ancient History, etc. You may suggest certain subjects based on your children’s interests and where they could be headed in the future. Again, if you feel that you are not the best person to help them make these kinds of decisions, try to find them someone who can guide them.

When evaluating courses, encourage your children to choose more difficult classes. Not only will they help them to develop strong academic skills, which are crucial for students aiming to go to college, but they will keep them more engaged. Sometimes kids may choose easier classes just because their friends are taking them or so they don’t have to work so hard. But you know, from your own experience, that when you coast at work, you pay for it later. Help them evaluate the advantages of taking honors courses, Advanced Placement classes, and the International Baccalaureate program.

Also, make sure you speak up if your child gets placed into a class he or she didn’t request or is below his or her abilities. Many times, parents are more persuasive than students when it comes to issues like this, so make your voice heard if your child is not getting the attention he or she deserves. The best idea is to intervene quickly because these changes should be done very early in the semester.

Getting to Know the Teachers

It’s essential for you to become familiar with the school personnel from day one. You need to know not just your child’s teachers but every adult in the building who is involved with your child in any way. Different schools have different structures. Some may have deans, department chairs, attendance officers, peer counselors, guidance counselors, a center for new arrivals, etc. Understanding the structure will help you access it with ease whenever you need to. If you develop a strong relationship with all these people and have the habit of dropping by at your child’s school at any time, both your son or daughter and the teachers will get the message that you have high expectations for your child and that you are there if they need you.

Special Education in High School

It is interesting how Anglo parents will fight to get their children evaluated if there is even the slightest suspicion that they may need special education, and how they fight to get the school to provide the extra help immediately and throughout their high school career. In contrast, Latino parents tend to react negatively when they are told that their children may need to receive special services. In many instances they refuse to have their children evaluated, and they also refuse the additional help that the school is offering.

Children don’t develop learning disabilities or any other disability overnight. So, if your child is entering the American school system for the first time at the high school level, and he or she has a disability he or she should have already been identified as in need of special services. However, according to Anthony Bellettieri, school psychologist at the middle and high school levels, many students who enter school speaking no English may slip through the system without being identified in need of special education until high school just because they don’t speak the language yet and people think that is the problem.

Whatever the specifics of your situation, if you notice your children having any difficulties—in communicating,understanding, hearing, or in behavioral,emotional, psychological, or motor skills—you should inform the teachers right away. The idea is for your child to be evaluated immediately so that the problem can be identified and your child can begin receiving services. By law, if your child’s first language is Spanish, he or she should be evaluated in Spanish by a native speaker. And also by law, the school can not evaluate your child without your consent.

In this country there is a huge array of services available to students with any kind of disability. The idea is for them to receive these services in the least restrictive environment, which means that whenever possible it is better for the student to attend a regular class where a second teacher works with him or her one-on-one. Another alternative may be that the child is taken out of the classroom for a period to work on a specific subject where he or she needs reinforcement. Children who are severely disabled may be placed in a separate class.

What is important for you to take into consideration is that you are the most important advocate for your children. If they need extra help, you need to work on getting it for them. So, first approach the teachers. If you don’t get a satisfactory solution to the problem, talk to the principal, and if this still doesn’t work, talk to the person at the district office who is in charge of special education. Don’t stop until you get your child the help he or she needs!

A Word on Handling Ethnically-Biased Situations

If your children complain about a teacher’s racially biased comment or attitude, try to understand what happened and try to avoid passing judgment right away. Think for a moment about your own prejudices and make space for the possibility that the teacher made a mistake. Ask your children to make an appointment with the teacher where they should explain that the comments or the attitude are making them feel uncomfortable. Suggest that they speak in the first person—“I feel put down when you make these comments”—so that they simply express their feelings and the teacher doesn’t feel attacked. Sometimes, just having this meeting will resolve the problem. However, your children may need to talk to the counselor and ask for advice or—if things don’t get better—for intervention. If needed, the next step of this process should be a meeting between you, the teacher, the counselor and your child. If the situation doesn’t improve, you may want to consider speaking to the principal of the school.

Throughout the situation, keep calm. The more rational you are, the better you are able to explain the situation from your child’s point of view—and maybe even clarify some cultural stereotype—and the better your chances of resolving the situation with little negative impact on everyone involved.

Identifying and Supporting Your Child’s Vocation

High school is also a good time for you and your children to begin exploring their vocations. By now, you probably know what their talents are. Begin discussing what they would like to study when they finish school. Although their ideas may differ from what you want them to study, be open. Youngsters who get pressured to follow a certain career—to support the family business for example, or something that is prestigious in your country—tend to rebel by refusing to go to college. Try to understand that a career is something your children will have to live with for the rest of their lives. It should be their choice.

Having said that, you can guide your children in the process of finding a career that fits their needs and talents. A career in art, for example, does not necessarily mean they will starve.You can help them explore interesting artistic careers that will both allow them to express their talents and support themselves. Talk to the career counselor in school for ideas, visit a career center at the local community college, or conduct Internet searches with your children.

In the United States, people’s vocations are highly valued. In a competitive market such as this, it is very important for your children to choose a career where they feel the drive to grow and compete. If you force them to follow the career of your dreams, or what is valued in your country, it is very possible that they will not reach their full potential, and they will be unhappy.

Think about it this way—there are probably many aspects of the Latino culture that are a priority to you, like your language, your family values, your religion, etc. These are the aspects you feel that your children must keep alive. Try making sure that your kids carry on these traditions while at the same time realize that in order for them to have better chances to succeed in America you will have to lose some battles. One of them may be the vocation battle. Letting young people choose what they wish to do with their careers is an American trait you may need to embrace.

Most schools offer career exploration courses, but even if your child’s school doesn’t, it is very likely that it has career programs in its software library that your child can use. Your children can do their own exploration and then discuss their results with you, the guidance or career counselor at school, or another adult who can mentor them. Some of the available programs are: Coin, Choices, and Discover.

They may also want to take a look at the Occupational Outlook Handbook, a directory published by the federal government that lists every single job out there along with their requirements, their pay scale, and future projections.

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Reprinted with permission from Help Your Children Succeed in High School and Go to College by Mariela Dabbah (Chapter 5: Parent Involvement in High School). Copyright © 2007 Mariela Dabbah and Sourcebooks, Inc, Naperville, Illinois. All Rights Reserved.

For more information or how to purchase Mariela Dabbah's books, visit the author's website listed below or the Latinos in College website. Books are available in English and Spanish.


Posted on February 2, 2011 by Mariela Dabbah [Guest Article]

Mariela Dabbah, author of numerous books on Latino parent involvement, bridges the cultural divide, helping parents understand their roles in the American school system and in the education of their child. This article, excerpted with permission from her successful book, "Help Children Succeed in High School and Go to College," teaches Latinos how to support their children in high school by identifying mentors, keeping channels of communication open, helping with the choice of courses, etc. Mariela's website.

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(www.ParentInvolvementMatters.org does not handle reprint requests. For permission to reprint articles, please contact the author directly.)

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Tags: *Diverse Families, *Parent Engagement at Home , *School-Family Partnership, Communicating, Low-income/ At risk, Multiracial

 

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