A new study from the University of Missouri suggests that Mexican-Americans in U.S. schools fare better when they maintain a connection to their heritage. “Culture Predicts Mexican Americans’ College Self-Efficacy and College Performance,” published in the journal Culture and College Outcomes, shows that Mexican-Americans who continued to speak Spanish and remained attached to their cultural heritage had higher GPAs and were more successful in college.
David Aguayo, a doctoral student, surveyed more than 400 Mexican-American students for the survey. He attributes some of that success to the reduced stress felt by students who were able to maintain traditions or ties to other members of their home culture. He spoke about the importance of educators understanding cultural differences: “Educators need to be aware of students’ home lives,” Aguayo said. “Immigrant parents, in particular, tend to put more trust in educators, rather than being involved in the child’s education like we normally see in the U.S. If educators can take the time to learn about the parents’ culture, the educators can have a positive impact on the students’ future.”
The study adds another voice to the conversation about best practices for teaching ELLs. Arayo says that his results indicate that English-only education may hurt some students: “I understand the reasons behind English-only efforts, but the research shows that if we don’t accept the cultural identity of these students in our schools, such as tolerating their native language, Mexican-Americans may not succeed.”
This may hold true for students from other backgrounds, too. So one question is: How can we help all students feel connected to their cultures and make good academic progress in the classroom?
UPDATE: At the suggestion of a reader, I took another look at Arayo’s study. The study looks at students’ socio-economic status, “Mexican orientation” or enculturation, acculturation, and generation status as they related to indicators of school performance; the study also notes differences in the way these variables affect the performance of immigrants, first-, second-, and third-generation Mexican-Americans. His survey doesn’t specifically address Spanish-language use so any conclusions about language’s role in the cultural mix he describes are probably overstated.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.