Virginia Bianco-Mathis
University professor, author

Virginia Bianco-Mathis

Business department chair of management programs at Marymount University and author of two books on executive coaching.

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Depth and breadth

Q: A recent series in The Post painted a bleak picture of the prospects for millions of U.S.-born children of Hispanic immigrants, who will play an outsized role in the future of the American workforce but are dropping out of high school in greater numbers than other any other U.S.-born racial or ethnic group. What needs to be done to help more of these young people succeed in school and get college degrees?

Fostering the success of U.S.-born children of Hispanic immigrants is no different than creating success for any other disadvantaged group. The distinguishing factor here, as pointed out in the article, is that immigrant Hispanic children are large in number and will be playing a role in the future of United States.

It takes a multi-system effort of depth and breath. Any outreach program must be focused over a long period of time and include a dedicated measurement effort to make sure it is done. Otherwise, like so many social efforts, it will fall by the wayside.

Many Hispanic immigrant children come from impoverished environments where survival tools are at the top of the educational pyramid, academic education is a luxury, and financially assisting the extended family far outweighs attendance beyond high school. These values are ingrained and continue into the second and third generations, whether here in the United States or elsewhere.

Virginia's Annandale High School has long been touted as one of the most diverse high schools in the country. The counselors, administrators, and teachers have struggled with various motivational and inclusion efforts toward the Hispanic community.

The most successful efforts seem to include the following five components:
--Exposure to alternative lifestyles and choices where children can continue going to school and help support their families;
--Availability of a variety of support structures that strongly influence behaviors beyond the child's own family and affect the entire peer group;
--Situations where these children can experience success in school and academics;
--Role models and mentors who these children can emulate;
--Avenues where these children can celebrate the talents and traditions of their own culture within the bigger American melting pot.

Some of the techniques used by Annandale High School and other similar programs involve mentors of all ages and nationalities reaching out to each home; after-school study sessions; weekend meeting forums for children and parents to share stories and gain mutual support; bilingual counselors and fellow-students assisting in various outreach programs; volunteer efforts by successful Hispanic role models in the community and visits to workplaces where Hispanic people can be seen successfully integrated into professional jobs.

Also, carpool and babysitting programs so parents can take part in academic/school activities; special Hispanic newsletters and bulletins from the school; inclusion of Hispanic students in higher-level classes to encourage confidence and goal achievement. There are many others. And yet, as can be seen, this requires a major "project management" effort where activities are coordinated and don't become just a random shot in the arm.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) coordinator at Annandale High School, Erin Albright, has personally sought out potential Hispanic immigrant students and has encouraged them to join the higher-level IB classes. The result: They step up to the plate and excel far more than they would in other classrooms. What the IB coordinator has done is demonstrate confidence, reached out, provided a compelling environment, offered support systems, and guided them through the process. One Hispanic child at a time.

And one last thought -- we Americans may have to adjust our definition of "success" as these millions of Hispanics move into the workforce, politics, and communities. We will be influenced just as powerfully as we try to influence them. The melting-pot continues.

By Virginia Bianco-Mathis  |  December 14, 2009; 10:09 AM ET  | Category:  education Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I'm a Latina that graduated from a Fairfax County High School. The county had amazing programs and opportunities for Latinos to succeed. I was an IB student and so was my brother,both of us did sports and were members of clubs and student associations. Why? Because our parents had high expectations of us and let us know that there was nothing more important in our young lives than our education. It all starts at home.

Posted by: JudyGG | December 14, 2009 2:44 PM
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