The Princeton Public School (PPS) system has numerous ways of engaging parents in their children’s education. Its website offers a wealth of information about personnel, programs, calendars, and events, as well as online access to student information through a Power School portal that allows parents to follow their children’s academic progress and eases communication between student, home, and school.
But what if you don’t have access to a computer? What if you have a computer but minimal access to the internet? What if your knowledge of the English language is limited? For many minority and immigrant groups there are numerous “what ifs,” each one a barrier to student success.
The “Latinos en Progreso” program at John Witherspoon Middle School (JWMS) is doing much to address these issues for Spanish-speaking families by providing step-by-step guidance through the college prep process as well as a variety of other services.
Started two years ago by JWMS teacher Nina Lavado in order to help parents who had difficulty in communicating with the school, “Latinos en Progreso” has met with stunning success, beginning modestly with a small number of parents and one meeting a week to three meetings a week: one for students only, one for parents only, and one for both parents and students, and between 50 and 70 participants. Families of middle-schoolers brought their elementary school-age children along too.
For parents “Latinos en Progreso” offers ESL training with the help of Rosetta Stone software as well as basic computer training and PPS Power School parent portal training, a must for navigating the school system.
For students, there’s basketball and Teen Topics.
For parents and students together there is a “Hispanics Inspiring Students Performance and Achievement” mentoring program as well as a six-week literary program, “Graciela’s Dream: A Family Journey to College.” Using the book, Graciela’s Dream, by Max and Katherine Benavidez, the program introduces families to the college process as it follows the aspirations of a young Latina girl. Though fiction, the book is based on real-life experience and strikes a chord with many Latino families.
In the beginning “Latinos en Progreso” was very much a work in progress, says Ms. Lavado, who has been teaching for almost a decade, first as a Spanish teacher at the Princeton High School and now teaching a “Habits of Mind” course at JWMS. She is also ESL-certified. “Research shows that parental involvement has a tremendous impact on student success and “Latinos en Progreso” has opened door to improved communication.”
The program’s name means “Latinos Moving Forward” and it was chosen by parents themselves to indicate their goals and hopes. As testament to its success, one student has been accepted into the rigorously academic PUPP (Princeton University Preparatory Program) program for low-income high schoolers. The tuition-free program prepares participants for admission to colleges and universities.
“Latinos en Progreso” has also had a ripple effect, moving from Spanish speaking families to other groups and to other Princeton schools and grades. Ms. Lavado and her team are well on their way toward implementing a new curriculum this year, providing “nuts-and-bolts basics” about the school system such as the role of guidance counselors and other school personnel.
The program has also resulted in a new initiative spearheaded by Bonnie Lehet, assistant superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction: “Parent University of PPS,” will add to the achievement of “Latinos en Progreso” by broadening its scope to meet the needs of other minority families. Participating parents will be guided through school policies, practices, and programs that affect their children. “It’s a question of access,” says Ms. Lehet, “Language is one piece of this. Nina is working with one group, of Spanish speakers, but there is a broad need across many minority groups with respect to planning for college and careers.” To facilitate this Ms. Lehet expressed her hope of one day being able further the success of participating families with computers. “But for that we’d need a donor or grant source,” she added.
For more on the Parent University of PPS and Latinos en Progreso, visit www.princetonk12.org.