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A study from Taylor and Francis group researched how involved Spanish-speaking Latino parents are their children's education. The results contradicted historical assumptions about them being detached from it, showing that, rather, they take a different approach.

Concretely, the study focused on Spanish and English-speaking parents whose children attend elementary school in low socio-economic strata in Chicago Heights, Illinois. The goal was to explore their perceptions of their contributions to children's educational performance, barriers and facilitators to parental involvement, as well as their cultural influences in their understanding and engagement of their children's academic achievements.

A total of 18 participants were interviewed in English and 23 were interviewed in Spanish. All Spanish speakers identified as Hispanic or Latino and as Mexican immigrants. 22.2 percent of English speakers identified as Hispanic or Latino, 56 percent of participants identified as Black and 22.2 percent of participants identified as white.

Here are some of the highlights of the study:

Language Barriers

All Spanish-speaking parents reported experiencing a language barrier when communicating with teachers, which they felt had ramifications on parent-teacher relationships, their ability to be involved in school-related activities and their confidence as a parent to provide educational support to their bilingual children. Additionally, teachers said they were also intimidated by the language barriers.

"Previous studies show that teachers can also be intimidated by language barriers. As technology becomes a more frequently utilized tool within educational settings, it is critical that the advantages it has on parental involvement and academic achievement are accessible to Spanish-speaking parents and their children," the study said. "Parents and teachers need more systematic, organized, and institutional approaches to involvement that could establish common expectations, patterns and protocols to facilitate parent-teacher communication and interactions."

Participants from the focus group shared their experiences attempting to speak English while with their children but ultimately being corrected by their kids. Another parent described how their child showed them a homework assignment but they weren't able to help because they did not understand the language.

Spanish-speaking parents also reported a desire to be more involved in their children's school-based activities if they could better communicate and express themselves in English. However, they only got to tell teachers what they thought during designated conferences with a translator. This reduced their levels of school-based parental involvement, the study said. Spanish-speaking parents also reported that, unlike English-speaking parents, they often wouldn't be able to engage with teachers through email or other online forms of communication.

The study also showed that, regardless of the language barriers, Spanish-speaking parents also reported that they only thought it was necessary to communicate with teachers during instances such as parent-teacher conferences. Outside of bi-annual events of the kind, where it was required for parents to review their children's grades, the majority of Spanish-speaking parents didn't think it was necessary to communicate with teachers.

Educational Aspirations

Spanish and English-speaking parents desired their children to have a better life than they did. This sentiment was more commonly endorsed by Spanish speakers.

100 percent of Spanish speakers in the focus group endorsed wanting their children to live a better life than they did. In the English-speaking focus group, 40 percent of parents endorsed wanting their children to live a better life than they did.

The Spanish-speaking parents reported explicitly sharing their hardships with their children to motivate them to do well in school, while English-speaking parents did not. The study said Spanish-speaking parents sometimes used their low-paying or self-described undesirable jobs as examples of what they believed their children should avoid.

"My husband didn't finish school. But he tells our children that they have to try. He explains to my son, "Would you like to be on a roof? You want to work there, suffering from heat, suffering from the cold? Is that what you want?" I tell my son, "You have to prepare yourself," said a participant in the study.

Cultural differences

The study found that, culturally, what kids learn in schools is slightly different in Mexico than in the U.S. In Mexican schools, parents expect the school to teach their children all academic subjects. In contrast, the school expects the parents to focus on ensuring their children are well-mannered and learn the importance of good behavior, such as ensuring they are punctual and well-nourished, which the study noted are values commonly taught in Mexican households.

Latino parents with children in U.S. schools believed that the U.S. schools were mainly concerned with teaching their children academic skills rather than practical life skills and values, which are already commonly taught in Latino families. The study said Latino parents defined parental involvement as preparing children with life skills over traditional academic involvement.

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