Program prepares parents for college

FRESNO -- Antonio Alas does not want his eldest daughter to become part of the 70 percent of Latino high school graduates who do not go on to college.

Alas wants his daughter to go beyond the statistic and obtain a college degree.

But, he and his wife Ana face one major challenge: They have no knowledge of how the education system works.

Both were educated in El Salvador as youth and migrated to the U.S. as adults. Their eldest daughter stayed behind with aunts and uncles to complete her basic education. Next year, she will graduate from high school and arrive in Fresno, hoping to attend a university.

"There is nothing she wants more than to come to come here, learn English and get into a good college," said Antonio, who fears he and his wife are not prepared to help her.

A few weeks ago, he heard an announcement on a local Spanish-language television of a unique workshop aimed at giving Latino parents the tools they need so their children could successfully apply and get into college. It would also educate parents on high school requirements, grades and test scores.

Without hesitation, he and his wife arrived at the Fresno Area College Night last Wednesday evening at the Fresno Convention Center Exhibit Hall to learn about grades, financial aid, colleges, course offerings, career paths and the general education process as a whole.

"My daughter just started her last year of high school and next year, she will be joining the rest of our family here in California. Every time I talk to her over the phone, she is excited and shares with me how much she wants to attend a university. My wife and I immediately start to panic and worry. We don't want to hurt her feelings by admitting that we don't know how to help her because we are not familiar with the school systems here," he added.

In a workshop entitled, El secreto mejor guardado: Educando a los padres (The best kept secret: Educating the parents), Antonio and Ana sat down together to learn about the education system. The workshop -- which was conducted almost entirely in Spanish -- is the only workshop of its kind held at college night to help Latino parents help their children get into college even though the alarming statistics about Latino youth drop out rates and college rates are at an all time high.

According to a study conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center in 2009, more than half of Latino youths drop out of high school and of those who successfully graduate, only 30 percent go on to college compared to nearly 70 percent of their white counterparts.

"I am very stressed out. I just want to understand what my daughter will need to do so she can be prepared," said Antonio.

He is among the 77 percent of Latino parents who expect their children to go to college, but like most Latino parents, "doesn't know what to do to help his children in that process" says the same study.

Workshop presenter Mía Navarro, a Reedley College outreach counselor, has made it a goal to get as many Latino families engaged in their children's education by teaching them first what high school and college is all about.

"I once had a parent tell me that their child received an 'F' on their report card and then told me how happy she was because her child told her it meant '¡fantástico!', I knew then that there was a big problem and even bigger disconnect between parents being involved and interested in their children's education," said Navarro.

In her workshops, parents learn everything from what an academic calendar looks like in high school compared to a college one, what a GPA entails, its importance and what the numbers mean, internships, job experience, tutoring, grants and scholarships that are available for their children and most importantly, how they can access financial aid to fund their children's education.

"I think the most common concern I hear from parents is based on affordability. The reality is that most Latino parents can't afford paying for a college education and they are curious as to what financial resources are out there so they can help their children with college tuition. I find its one of the main reasons many Latino youth don't go to college. They feel they can't rely on their parents for financial support and they know it would be hard to afford school on their own," said Navarro.

One of her biggest challenges, however, is getting parents to attend her workshop. Last year, only two parents showed up to learn about high school requirements and college admissions despite the 3,000 college fair attendees.

This year, there was slight improvement. She had a room full of parents even though over 5,000 high school junior and senior students from Central Valley high schools attended the event--a jump from the 3,500 that attended last year.

"I don't know why this workshop has been poorly attended. We have done everything to outreach. We have sent flyers home to parents, posted bulletins, even made an appearance on TV to encourage parents to come and we are still struggling to get them here," said Navarro.

One of the ways Navarro conducts her workshop is by showing 'Novelas Educativas' which portray Latino families facing an array of life situations that are related to their children's desire to gain an education. She says the novelas have been helpful in reaching out to Latino parents and tend to answer many of their questions in respect to their children's classroom experiences and college desires.

"I think the more parents learn how to help their children get through the process successfully in high school, their children are more likely to apply to college and fare well. But, the students themselves have a responsibility and desire to want to go to college as well," said Navarro.

Evie Contreras, an educational adviser at Madera Community College, helps Navarro conduct her workshop and sees the impact educating parents makes on a students future success.

"I believe Latino students have a hard time deciding whether or not to go to college because they are still caught up in this traditional mind set where they feel they have a duty and responsibility to help their families by contributing to the family income, so they join the work force and drop out of high school, or finish high school and do the same instead of attending college. What we are trying to tell parents is that going to college is the best option for their children in the long term," said Contreras.

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