• by Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • March 2006 •
A parent in the La Milpas Colonia of Pharr, Texas, is sitting at a computer, surrounded by other parents and young people, creating an e-mail to send to the principal of her son’s school. She is requesting information about the next site-based decision-making committee. This is the first time she has used her new e-mail address.
She is in a community center, with clusters of students, ages 10 through 20, sitting with their parents and other adults exploring the Internet. The teams are searching for information on local colleges, their schools and e-mail addresses of their school principals.
What Led to this Moment?
In the summer of 2004, students joined families to help the adults begin to use computers, explore the Internet and find educational information online. As part of an ongoing parent leadership series in education conducted through the Texas IDRA Parent Information and Resource Center, a new library with a large cluster of state-of-the-art computers was the scene for the workshop. IDRA provided technical assistance and training.
Students were paired with adults and conducted a series of online searches. The adults first selected a theme, topic or question to be researched online with the students guiding them. Families visited web sites about communities where crops were picked in the summers. One woman found several web sites with pictures of dolphins. Another found information on available real estate in her community. A student took his mother to the community college web site. And another visited the web site of a province in Spain.
Each team visited school information web sites. They identified whether their children’s schools had web sites. Some were able to view pictures of the administrators and school board members. They also found actual student data about their campuses.
That afternoon, some students made PowerPoint presentations on what they had learned. One student guided the group through an online search of local colleges and highlighted specific information on financial aid available at the largest public university in the area.
Organizing the Youth Education Tekies
Following this very successful inter-generational session, the participating students decided to form a group to support the ongoing technology connections for their families. Few had computers at home, and even fewer had Internet connections. All of the students involved had ample technology skills and access to computers in school but were not active users of their e-mail addresses because of the lack of access to computers outside of school.
In most cases, they also were the translators for their parents and other adults. Historically, in the large migrant stream from south Texas to the many seasonal farm work sites in all parts of the United States, families have had a great dependence on school-age children to be the linguistic go-betweens for families that are Spanish proficient.
With a commitment from IDRA to support their efforts, 15 students gathered on a Saturday and formed a group. After extensive discussion, they agreed upon their vision and goals:
- Help parents to be strong defenders of an excellent education for all children.
- Provide the leadership of youth through technology.
- Be technology bridges for families and strengthen family connections.
- Develop personally through the use of technology.
They asked ARISE, a grassroots organization in the lower Rio Grande Valley, to be their sponsor and organized themselves under the title of Youth Education Tekies. ARISE is a collaboration of five separately incorporated non-profit organizations each dedicated to building community so that families feel strong from within. It was founded in 1987 by Sister Gerrie Naughton, RSM, and has been co-sponsored by three religious congregations. ARISE focuses on community development programs for persons who are immigrants to the United States, primarily from Mexico. Ramona Casas is the lead organizer.
The PIRC has continued to provide support and integrates monthly meetings that bring students and parents together around educational issues. The PIRC also has conducted leadership retreats for the youth.
The Youth Education Tekies have had many successes. They hold monthly meetings and provide continued assistance for adults on the use of computers. Students do classwork while young siblings play math games online. The community center has a cluster of donated computers and has upgraded from dial-up to a high-speed broadband connection. The center is an added barrio technology resource. The city public library is five miles away and has a constant waiting list for computer use, so this center is a good alternative. Following are more successes the Tekies have achieved:
- Several students presented at a public hearing on the No Child Left Behind Act.
- They co-planned and helped carry out a welcome for the newly appointed Latina president of the largest public university in the area. In preparation for this event, the students and parents studied the structure and offerings of the university online.
- Students who have been the language bridge for families that speak a language other than English are now also the connection to technology.
- Several of the Youth Education Tekies are officially on the PIRC advisory board.
- Most recently, the Youth Education Tekies participated in a conversation about dropout prevention. And a co-founder and representative of the group addressed a major conference Graduation Guaranteed/Graduación Garantizada – Statewide Summit on School Holding Power, sponsored by IDRA and League of United Latin American Citizens. Alejandra “Maggie” Teran, a 10th grader, presented the views of the group on what schools need to do to increase their holding power. She received her first standing ovation.
The research on the connections between proficiency in technology use and academic achievement keeps getting stronger. But the technology gap between Latino families and middle-class English-speaking homes continues to be a large chasm.
A cursory review of available research and best practices using technology for education and community engagement yields little in terms of efforts described here. Instead, there is information on how to “engage” people to get them to learn about certain issues and to act one way or another; information on using community engagement strategies to secure technology in schools or in communities; and information on using technology to engage students in the classroom.
In contrast, IDRA’s effort exemplifies using technology as a tool to bring together students and families to access and improve public education in their community.
This project, although limited in scope and number, highlights important funds of knowledge, interest and value in the working-class Latino community in South Texas. Latino family connections are readily available resources to accelerate the schooling and family involvement goals of schools. Activities that strengthen family bonds can further parents’ ability to take leadership in supporting excellent public schools for their children.
Parents are thirsty for knowledge about schools and education and care deeply about their children’s academic success. Latino youth, like most of the school-age children in the United States, are technology proficient and savvy in ways that even schools sometimes ignore. There are huge online resources available in English and Spanish.
Children historically have been natural and willing partners for families to navigate the English-speaking context. And they can be strong connections with school for families as well.
While this effort has been hugely successful, several needs for similar initiatives are apparent: (1) increasing the availability of technology; (2) providing technology support so that the equipment and the connections are available and working; (3) finding more permanent means of providing training and technical assistance to connect students and families with the educational information available online; and (4) nurturing the collective use of the information for the improvement of all schools.
If a small community center in a colonia, with limited resources, can be the host of a family-student-school technology communication project, there are great possibilities for the many technology labs that already exist in schools and that are underutilized when school is not in session.
When the starting point is the family, drawing on the assets and funds of knowledge in the community, the e-connections can be positively e-rupting!
Kearsley, G., and B. Shneiderman. Engagement Theory: A Framework for Technology-Based Teaching and Learning (1999).
Pinkett, R. Community Technology and Community Building (Palo Alto, California: Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, accessed January 2006).
Turner, N.E., and R.D. Pinkett. An Asset-Based Approach to Community Building and Community Technology (accessed January 2006).
Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., is lead trainer for the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2006, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 2006 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]