Summer is all but done, and over the last few weeks, kids have been going back to school, ready to start a new school year. For many families, the days leading up to back-to-school day involve ensuring all pencils are sharpened, organizing notebooks in backpacks and maybe even some clothes shopping to have the kids look their best. But equal or even more attention should be placed on getting the home environment ready for kids’ return to school.
At the Latino Leadership Council, our youth promotores work a lot with school-aged kids and their families on issues ranging from substance abuse, gang involvement, issues at school and law enforcement altercations. One of the things we notice often when visiting families is that a lot of homes lack a physical environment that encourages and supports education.
Many times older children are made responsible to care over their younger siblings in the afternoons and evenings while parents are working or otherwise occupied. How can a high school student keep up with his or her school work while at the same time taking care of the needs of their brothers and sisters? In many of these households it is also difficult if not impossible to find a quiet corner where the student can read, study, engage in critical thinking and do homework. We want our kids to succeed in school but we don’t always create the environment for them to do so.
As parents, we need to look out for our kids’ needs. Yes, it makes our life easier if our children can help more around the house and take care of the younger kids so that we are free to do other things that have to be done. But the kid’s first responsibility should be to his or her studies. They need to attend to that before we draw their attention to other shores like helping with cooking or cleaning the house. Yes, it means that we have to take on more responsibilities ourselves and that our lives will probably be more difficult for a period of time, but it also means that we’re giving our kids the opportunity to excel and move up in the world—an accomplishment that will have positive impacts for many generations to come. Our priority needs to be affording our children every opportunity we can to allow them to succeed.
That also means that, as parents, we need to become more involved in our kids’ schools. For many Latino immigrants this is particularly difficult. Language barriers and unfamiliarity with the American school system pose challenges to meaningful parental engagement in the school. But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s any less necessary. Fortunately, the Latino Leadership Council can help these families. We help Latino families navigate the school system, we advocate on their behalf to teachers and principals, we help parents become familiar with the tools and services available to them and help connect parents and students to the resources they need.
If we can help parents create a connection with their kids’ teachers, they they’ll be aware sooner of any problematic issues that are arising and help correct them before they become detrimental to the child’s education and life. If parents learn how to check grades on-line they can help their kids stay on top of homework deadlines and upcoming quizzes and tests. If they understand the school system, parents can work with principals and counselors to get their kids the assistance they need.
But it all begins with parent involvement…in the home and at school.
Create an environment at home where kids are free to study and learn. Create a relationship with the school where you feel comfortable engaging with teachers and principals and help guide your child through the system.
I know it’s not going to be easy. I know it takes extra effort and time on the parents’ side. But I also know, and I hope you agree with me, that it’s not only worth it, but absolutely essential to future of our families and our community.