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Latino Men Answer the Call to Get Involved

by: James Martinez and Manuel Perez

father_swing.jpgIncreasing parents’ involvement in their children’s education is viewed as a key component of most school reform efforts. The term "parent involvement" is mentioned in the federal legislation known as No Child Left Behind more than 300 times. However, Latino parents have consistently demonstrated low rates of school involvement. There are more than 13 million Latino school-age children in the United States, but Latinos make up only 4 percent of PTA’s almost 6 million members.

Fortunately, more Latinos—and specifically Latino men—are recognizing the significance of being involved. "I choose to be involved because I see the positive effect my involvement has on my children, and they are my priority in life," says Carlos Delgado, a father of three and president of the Coral Park Senior High School PTA in Miami, Florida. "Knowing that I can make a positive impact in their lives makes me happy. I think that in today’s world, we must be involved in our children’s lives to ensure a clear path."

Why is there so little involvement by Latino parents? In Latino culture, families, and especially Latino men, are not expected to be involved in the schooling of their children. In many Latin American countries, it is considered rude for a parent to intrude into the life of the school. Parents believe that it is the school’s job to educate and the parents’ job to nurture and that the two jobs do not mix.

The truth is that there is a direct link between parent involvement and student achievement. Decades of research show that students succeed when a parent is involved in their child’s education, regardless of race, religion, or socioeconomic status. Through its informational brochures, and grassroots organizing, PTA focuses its efforts on creating awareness of the research, especially to Latino families—and it’s working.

"Everyone, especially Latinos, experiences barriers when volunteering. Getting Latino men involved nowadays is not as difficult as it used to be. But, like everyone else, we want to be asked," says Delgado.

"I got involved because my daughter asked me to," says Harlingen, Texas, resident Rick Mendiondo, a father of two and a member of Harlingen High School PTSA. "As my role became larger with PTA, it became clear that we needed more men involved. One of the byproducts of going out to organize new units and speaking on behalf of PTA was an increase of male involvement. I guess seeing a dad get involved and leading by example made other dads comfortable accepting officer positions within their local PTAs."

"To get dads involved, I would simply ask them for their help," says Mendiondo. "I never saw myself attending a PTA meeting because I thought PTA was more of a women’s organization. I quickly realized my perception of PTA was more than women getting together for punch and cookies. I came to understand that our children experience many benefits that PTA has advocated for."

"Getting involved in PTA has been a most rewarding experience for my family and me. Thanks to the leadership training from PTA, I have obtained the respect from members of my community, as I am often asked for assistance and guidance," says Delgado.

Men overall are breaking the mold of parent involvement being for women only. In July 2007, PTA elected the first national male President-elect, Charles J. "Chuck" Saylors, in its 114-year history. Nevada PTA also installed its first Latino male president, Mo Denis of Las Vegas.

Latino families have begun to play a larger part in the U.S. educational system. If the U.S. Latino population continues to increase as predicted, more and more Latino men will be called upon to play an active role in their children’s education. Common sense and the example of their peers should help convince Latino men that they can help their children to a brighter future through their involvement at school.

"I think the only barriers to Latino fathers getting involved are the barriers that we put on ourselves. I don’t have any excuses for why I can’t help my child with her education. I can budget time to attend a meeting or other function. If any barrier exists, it may be that it is the norm in the Latino culture for the women to tend to the kids. As for me, I can’t see myself not being involved. I knew the minute my children were born that I was going to be the best dad possible," says Mendiondo.

Delgado expresses similar thoughts, "We must learn to hear children and most importantly, listen to their needs and their hunger for knowledge. I have never had any second thoughts about being involved in my sons’ educational experience."