Today in 2018, one in four American children are of Hispanic or Latino origin. With Hispanic/Latino students making up such a large percentage of our schools, we would expect to see them spread proportionally across the spectrum of student success; but research tells us this is not the case. Hispanic/Latino students remain in the bottom quartile in academic achievement as a national cohort.
It is that research, and my years as a principal, director of gifted education, and consultant that drove me to write a guide for motivated 21st century schools—Educating Hispanic and Latino Students: Opening the Doors to Hope, Promise, and Possibility.
WHY HISPANIC AND LATINO STUDENTS DO LESS WELL IN SCHOOL
There are dozens of factors confounding Hispanic/Latino academic success, but in my experience working with these students, one issue arises repeatedly: the burden of rotating identities between home, school, and community.
Consider your own situation. When you have dinner with your family, talk to your coworkers, and spend time with your friends, how do you change? We naturally conform to the expectations of the group we’re in; our gestures, conversations, priorities, and even our language shift to match the values of the people around us. The difference for Hispanic/Latino students is how wide the shift in identities becomes. For them, the home, the school, and the community can be a tricky web to navigate.
Home life can be difficult for these students. On average, more Hispanic/Latino students live in poverty than their white classmates. Furthermore, most children are expected to honor the traditions, culture, religion, and language of their family (often in competition with the expectations of school and the community). Some children are expected to work and earn money to support the family. They may also have added stressors including poverty, poor nutrition, drug and alcohol abuse in the home, neglect, inadequate housing, and educational limitations.
When these students go to school, they find they must take on a new personality as a new set of challenges is thrown their way. Students are expected to conform; however, rules are applied inconsistently. Hispanic/Latino students often experience language barriers as almost all instruction is given in English, and they are expected to speak and write in English as well.
They also experience lowered expectations from teachers and leaders who are uninformed about their culture and heritage. Often, their cultural identity is merged into one “Hispanic/Latino” identity and their individual culture and nationality goes unnoticed.
Leaving school brings with it another challenge as students quickly change identities once more and try to blend into the community. The way students interact with their families and teachers differs greatly and the pressure to conform to peer groups can outweigh the value of school. Students often jump back and forth between English and Spanish. And given the socio-economic status of many Hispanic/Latino students, rougher neighborhoods can lead to severe gang influence, prohibiting students from focusing on school and realizing their full potential. Succeeding in school is not always “cool” or encouraged.
WHAT WE CAN DO
But Hispanic and Latino students don’t have to be burdened by these conflicting expectations. Rather than weights dragging them down, we can transform the home, school, and community into buoys lifting our students up. The secret to opening the doors to hope, promise, and possibility is collaboration.
Families to Children
The desire to do well in school starts in the home. And everything from a healthy breakfast to parental support can affect a child’s overall achievement. Hispanic/Latino parents and families can support their children and make sure they are successful both inside and outside the classroom. Monitoring technology use, explaining the importance of good sleep, nutrition and cleanliness, and ensuring students have access to grade-level school supplies at home will not only support students in school, but provide them with simple life skills to exhibit self-regulation, effort and discipline.
Families to Schools
Parents and families have a responsibility to the school their child attends. Being on time for meetings, arriving with questions and suggestions, and attending school-sponsored events not only shows their child they value his/her performance in school, but it establishes a relationship with their child’s educators, which can affect the standards placed on their child in the classroom.
Schools to Families
Providing all students with a highly qualified teacher is a nonnegotiable requirement for schools. Teachers should become partners with families, actively reaching out to set standards and goals for each individual child. To increase family involvement for Hispanic/Latino families, schools can provide interpreters, translated documents, and automated messages and social media in Spanish. Teachers can also include cultural diversity in the classroom, acknowledging the individual identities of his/her Hispanic/Latino students.
Districts to Families
District leaders can support Hispanic/Latino families by acknowledging their diversity and aligning products, programs, and services to meet their needs. For example, providing interpreters at meetings, translating district documents, and providing opportunities for collaboration.
Families to Families
In the community, support for Hispanic/Latino students doesn’t stop in the classroom. Families can support one another by sharing stories to promote understanding and communication. Learning from one another and sharing positive feedback and ideas can strengthen how individual families pave the way for their child’s education. Simple acts, such as coordinating carpooling, after-school day-care, and fieldtrips and outings, can provide stability and support for students.
WHERE WE GO FROM HERE
It’s not an easy web to untangle. But with collaboration and attention, we can see our Hispanic/Latino students reach the same academic levels as their peers. The weights these children carry are not visible to every eye. They are not as obvious as writing with a broken wrist with or needing glasses to read the board. They are invisible to many educators and school leaders, and only show themselves when all parties become involved.
Luckily for these students, all aspects of their lives—the home, the school, and the community—are saturated with support systems that, when aware and involved, can open the doors to hope, promise, and possibility.
Jaime Castellano is the author of the newly released book
Educating Hispanic and Latino Students. Order your copy today.
With more than 30 years as an educator advocating for the educational rights of Hispanic/Latino students, he has served as a teacher of the gifted, assistant principal and principal supervising gifted education programs, district-level gifted education coordinator and director, and state department of education specialist/expert in the field. He also serves as a reviewer for the Journal of Advanced Academics (JAA), Journal for the Education of the Gifted (JEG), and Gifted Child Today (GCT). Castellano is a nationally recognized speaker and professional development trainer and continues to consult with school districts across the country on the education of Hispanic/Latino students, and the inclusion of low-income, racially, culturally, and linguistically diverse students in gifted education programming.