La comunidad: Connecting Latino parents with Lake Tahoe school communities
June 10, 2010
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Styrofoam cups of coffee sit on top of blue and pink tablecloths, as parents at Bijou Community School spout off in rapid-fire Spanish about the news of the day. When the chatter ceases, Delicia Spees smiles and speaks.
“If I have to hear you argue,” she says in Spanish, “I’d prefer to go to the dentist.”
But the spirited discussion continues on the topics of the day – netbook computers, bus passes and summer school. Each week at Bijou, parents gather for Cafecitos, a Spanish-language meeting meant to connect Latino parents with their children’s school. And Spees, the director of the Family Resource Center on the campus of Bijou, said the program has helped with involvement and comfort for the parents.
“We’re having success with the Latino parents that the (other) parents don’t have,” she said. “These are moms that were never involved in school.”
Before Cafecitos’ implementation two years ago, nearly all Latino parents at Bijou weren’t involved, said principal Karen Tinlin, who attends nearly all the sessions.
Now, parents feel like they have a voice, and many used the word “confianza,” or trust, to describe what Cafecitos had done to help their experiences in the community. Bijou is, they say, an example of success where efforts at meeting and forming community across ethnicities have failed across Tahoe.
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“There’s not a division anymore. When I first came to Bijou, it was hard to get the parents involved,” Tinlin said.
At the Cafecitos meeting, parents who hadn’t been involved said their experiences with the group helped them understand what their kids were doing. And many said that the school’s two-way immersion program – similar to a two-way immersion program at Kings Beach Elementary – has provided another link between communities.
“Well, for my son, I want the best. It’s a great opportunity he’s going to have, that his first language here will be English, and (he’ll also have) my culture, which is Spanish,” parent Jaime Morales said in Spanish.
Other parents expressed happiness that they understood their children’s schoolwork more now.
“We have more confidence talking to our kids,” parent Virginia Lopez said in Spanish.
At an educational conference two years ago, Tinlin and Sue O’Connor, the school’s English learner program coordinator, witnessed a school similar demographically to Bijou that was hosting similar coffee meetings, and the pair decided to try to implement such gatherings. The program has grown from six parents to nearly 30 each week, they said.
One of the first attendees was Marichuy Rodriguez, mother of two students at the school.
“Many parents, they put their kids in school and they forget. They think it’s babysitting,” Rodriguez said in Spanish. “(But) we have more communication with the teachers and the principal. And that was our proposition.”
While Bijou’s academic reputation is not stellar – California named it as one of its lowest performing schools in 2009 – these parents said they see Cafecitos as a model for other schools. Spees has worked with Sierra House Elementary School to add a Cafecitos program there, and some of the parents at Bijou are bringing the program to the middle school, too.
“In the last few years, the Latino parents (at Bijou) have really taken it upon themselves to be involved in the schools,” Spees said. “They’re the essence, the core.”
Down the hall from the meeting, a class full of young scholars looks at the teacher. On the board, the lesson reads “1. Estoy triste cuando. 2. Estoy feliz cuando … .”
The fill-in-the-blank lesson seems normal enough – “I’m sad when,” “I’m happy when,” – but it’s the language that’s out of the ordinary. The course is split into a Spanish lesson and a science lesson, all intended to teach the students in two languages effectively.
“I’m sending my daughter here,” says Julie Lowe, the assistant to the Family Resource Center director, quietly, but with a smile.
The parental excitement at Bijou, though, is somewhat muted when concerns about immigration and deportation are raised. One of the Cafecitos parents informed the principal after the meeting that her children would be absent from school one day because the family needed to work on their immigration status.
After high school, immigration concerns become more acute because papers can be required for collegiate entrance, said Arturo Rangel, outreach program technician for Lake Tahoe Community College. Rangel, who works with the Family Resource Center and has helped set up the Cafecitos at Sierra House Elementary, sponsors a group called HOPE at the college. Many Latino students are fearful of having no future after graduation because of lack of documentation, he said.
“A lot of them don’t have papers, but they want to be doctors; they want to be lawyers,” he said. “It breaks the stereotype.”
Still, more parental involvement from a young age is helping students see the possibilities they can have, he said.
“It’s ‘What college are you going to?’ The question shouldn’t be, ‘Are you going to college?'” Rangel said.
And the parents and organizers at the Cafecitos say success for their children is the key.
“You are,” Spees says in Spanish to the parents, “part of the education for these children.”
Read part one of our series on Latino life in the Lake Tahoe Basin . Look to http://www.tahoedailytribune.com next week for the third and final installment to the series.