Equity & Diversity

Hispanic Girls Said To Face Barriers in School

By Karla Scoon Reid — January 31, 2001 3 min read
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American schools need to embrace the culture and values of Hispanic girls as strengths that can help them succeed in the classroom, and later the boardroom, a report released last week argues.

Rather than reinforce stereotypes, it says, educators must recognize the assets of the girls’ ethnic backgrounds and help Latinas overcome challenges that can impede their futures.

The report, "¡Sí, Se Puede!/Yes, We Can: Latinas in School,” was prepared by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation. It examines the educational experiences of Latinas, the nation’s fastest-growing female minority. Demographers estimate that Hispanic students overall will make up 25 percent of the U.S. school population by 2030.

For More Information

A summary of the report "¡Sí, Se Puede! Yes, We Can: Latinas in School,” is available from the American Association of University Women. The full report is available for $12.95 (for nonmembers) and $11.95 (members) from the AAUW, 1111 16th St. N.W., Washington DC 20036; (800) 225-9998.

In a review of Latina students’ academic achievement, the study found that their graduation rate was lower than for girls of any other racial or ethnic group, and that they were underenrolled in Advanced Placement courses and classes for gifted students. They also are the least likely of any group of women to earn bachelor’s degrees, it found.

“A lot of the barriers are rooted in values, traditions, and attitudes,” said Jacqueline E. Woods, the executive director of the AAUW, a Washington-based organization that promotes educational equity for women and girls. “Changing those and being more inclusive go a long way in helping these students achieve. There needs to be adjustments made on both sides.”

Ms. Woods said the AAUW also hopes to conduct additional research about other ethnic groups.

Many schools are not “culturally aware,” said Angela B. Ginorio, a co-author of the report and an associate professor of women’s studies at the University of Washington in Seattle. Although schools are trying to reach out to students from different cultures, she noted, their strategies are not always “culturally appropriate.”

The report recommends that schools recruit and train more Latino teachers, who have a clear understanding of Latina students’ social and educational pressures, to serve as role models.

Teaching Gap

Arturo Pacheco, the dean of the University of Texas at El Paso’s college of education, agreed with that suggestion.

“Having young people see folks come from their own background just makes it real,” he said. “It increases the [teacher’s] chance for that empathetic connection and understanding about where the students are coming from.”

Latinos account for 65 percent of teacher education graduates at the El Paso campus, Mr. Pacheco said. However, he noted, a majority of the U.S. teaching force is made up of white, non-Hispanic educators, while the number of minority students is rising.

At El Paso, he said, education students are required to take two years of Spanish and courses that address culture and community issues. Mr. Pacheco said additional efforts must be made to increase those teachers’ abilities to relate to minority students.

The AAUW report also suggests that school advisers involve the entire family in preparing Latina students for college. That is important, Ms. Ginorio said, because some Hispanic parents do not consider sending their daughters to college out of town because girls are expected to help at home.

“We need to convince parents that sending a child to college is not losing that child,” she said.

At the same time, secondary schools need to become more aware of Latina students’ financial constraints and family obligations, Ms. Ginorio said. Latino families often need their children to work to help support the family, rather than participate in after-school or enrichment activities.

In stressing the benefits of college, meanwhile, school advisers need to ensure that students with alternative goals for the future aren’t alienated, Ms. Woods of the AAUW said.

“It’s a Catch-22,” Ms. Woods said. “You want to promote lifelong learning because it is critically important in almost every career, but we have to give people options.”

But she cautioned that schools shouldn’t stereotype Hispanic students into believing that they are not Ivy League material.

Many of the recommendations concern attitudinal changes on educators’ part and creating an “affirming” atmosphere, rather than establishing expensive initiatives, Ms. Ginorio said. For example, a principal can set up appointments to meet with parents rather than simply stressing his or her “open-door policy.”

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A version of this article appeared in the January 31, 2001 edition of Education Week as Hispanic Girls Said To Face Barriers in School

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