Mariela Dabbah has authored several books on helping Latinos navigate the American education system, including: Help your Children Succeed in School and Help your Children Succeed in High School and Go to College. She is also the education and career coach at AOL Latino´s Tu Voz en tu vida and a columnist for the Huffington Post´s Latino Voices and Fox News Latino.
Mariela shares her insights for Latina moms who want to help their children excel academically:
Q: What do you think the biggest culprit is for academic failure in the Latino community?
A: What school the kids go to, what teachers they have, how much support and encouragement they get at home and whether they attend preschool or not are all factors that impact the probability of a student’s success. Parents can influence many of these aspects. They should consider the various school options (public, charter, private, catholic, etc.) and if they decide to go the public route, they need to find out as much as possible about how good that school is. Because public schools are tied to the area where you live, if your school happens to have a low graduation rate or a high violence rate, you may need to consider moving to another town or sending your kids to a charter school. It’s also important to know that having and expressing your high expectations of your kids to both them and their teachers is critical to their success.
Q: How can parents of school-age children improve the odds for their kids’ academic success?
A: Research shows that there are several things that parents can do, as follows:
- Make sure students attend school every single day and, when they are in high school, that they attend every period of the day. When students skip class (they are sick or they are taken out of school for Christmas vacation early, or return from vacations late, etc.) they quickly start to fall behind, which is a sure way to lose interest, or get frustrated because they don’t understand what’s going on in class. Eventually, this gap starts to show up in their grades. Once they are teenagers, parents should make sure that they not only go to school in the morning but that they stay there through the day. Parents can verify their kids´ attendance by calling the school office every couple of weeks.
- Make sure their children do their homework and turn it in. If kids don’t understand the teacher’s assignments, it’s time to talk to the teacher and get some help.
- Be aware of what their children do with their time after school. It’s important to structure this time so that kids are engaged in positive and productive activities.
- Talk to them about their concerns, dreams, and problems every day. Having substantial conversations on a daily basis is a very, very important part of the success equation, to the point that kids from families who have dinner together (and conversations over dinner) do much better in school than those who don’t have dinner with their families.
Q: College is expensive. How can Latino families find college funding, grants, or aids?
A: It’s true that college is expensive, so the first thing everyone should do from the time they know they are pregnant is save money for college! There are special accounts called 529 Plans, which allow you to save money without taxing the interests if you use that money for education. Besides that, doing well academically is paramount. The higher the student’s GPA, the more opportunities they will have of receiving scholarships and being admitted at top ranking universities, which are the ones with the deepest pockets. A lot of parents don’t know that if their kids get admitted to Harvard or Princeton, for example, they can have their entire education paid for. I know many students in this situation. In addition, to get scholarships, students must be involved in extra-curricular activities, develop good leadership skills, and be involved with the community.
Q: Any words of encouragement for mamis who want to go back to school themselves?
A: It’s a known fact that the students whose mothers have college degrees are more likely to obtain a college degree themselves. So, if you are wondering whether continuing your education is a good idea, now you have the perfect reason to do it: you won’t just be opening your own career opportunities, but you’ll be inspiring your own kids to get a higher education degree. You are the best role model for your kids! I know many mothers who went back to school at the same time as their kids were entering college and had a marvelous experience. And one more thing for you to consider: Regardless of the bad economic times, people with a college degree continue to have a much lower unemployment rate than people without a degree. So go ahead! Enroll yourself in school too!
Help your Children Succeed in School and Help your Children Succeed in High School and Go to College are both published by SourceBooks.