While parental involvement in schools cuts across all racial and ethnic lines, it is a special challenge in Latino immigrant communities because of language barriers and unfamiliarity with the school system, the panelists said.
‘‘Immigrants don't have the map they need to make their children successful in school,'' said Ana Guzman, a former adviser to Richard Riley, secretary of education under President Clinton.
Low-income Latino parents may face the extra strain of holding down several jobs.
‘‘Immigrants and low-income people don't have the human resources because they work three to four jobs and they don't have the monetary resources to spend on their children,'' said Guzman.
Those problems hit home in Imperial County, said Judith Ibarra, second-language services coordinator for the Imperial County Office of Education. Nearly 50 percent of students in Imperial County schools don't speak English as their primary language, according to the California Department of Education.
Immigrant parents may stay away from their children's schools because they are ashamed that they don't speak English, said Ibarra. They also may not understand how to navigate the school system.
‘‘Parents don't know that their children can go to college prep classes,'' said Ibarra. ‘‘They think, ‘Oh, he graduated from high school.' But that's not enough.''
The panelists advocated creating programs to help bridge the gap between Latino parents and their children's schools.
An example was the Kenmore Middle School in Arlington County, Va., which has an in-house translator to translate materials for parents and help at teacher conferences, said panelist Kara Schwab, who teaches math at the school.
The Latina Mother/Daughter Workshop in El Paso, Texas, teaches mothers what they can do to help their daughters succeed in school. The program addresses topics such as how to access financial aid for college, said Guzman.
The Imperial County schools try to get parents involved through several avenues, said Ibarra. One is the English-learner advisory committee, which advises parents on what programs are available to students who don't speak English.
Another is a program called Advancement Via Individual Determination that helps students who are traditionally underrepresented in higher education to get accepted to college. AVID program coordinators keep in close contact with their students' parents, said Ibarra.
Still, Ibarra said, additional efforts could help increase parents' involvement.
‘‘Parental involvement is a little bit shaky,'' she said. ‘‘It would take a lot of effort on the part of the district to really pull the parents in.''