By Sam Piha
Below is a continuation of an interview with Pilar O'Cadiz on serving the needs of Latino youth in afterschool programs. We abbreviated the interview answers for the blog, but you can read the complete interview by clicking here. For a listing of curriculum and resources that Pilar has recommended for afterschool leaders serving Latino youth, click here. A more complete bio of Pilar follows this interview.
Q: What advice can you give to afterschool program leaders who want to better serve the needs of their Latino youth and their families
They will then find greater purpose in learning to read and write, doing math and studying geography and history. They will see themselves reflected in the curriculum more than ever before; and you will be surprised how powerful that is for many immigrant children who often are implicitly or explicitly made to feel “alien” through curriculum practices that make no reference to who they are and where they come from, and far too often disparage them.
I recall, for example, how my 7th grade teacher announced at the beginning of our World History course, how we would skip the chapter on Latin American ancient civilizations as “that chapter is not important,” and go straight to studying about the Greeks. I knew this was wrong, but I was afraid to protest. Fortunately, I was able to overcome that trauma when I ran an afterschool program in the early 1990s in Boyle Heights, a Latino immigrant enclave east of downtown Los Angeles. There, we (students, parents and UCLA undergraduates) all dove into an exploration of our historical heritage, family histories and community reality using art as an expressive vehicle (O'Cadiz, 2003). That was redemption! This experience solidified my faith in afterschool as an alternative educational space that can help shape the learning experiences of Latino and other so called minority, at-risk youth, by shifting from a deficit paradigm to a focus on our assets.
Q: Do Latino youth have unique needs that we should be aware of in afterschool? What role is afterschool uniquely positioned to take on to address the needs of these youth?
A: I think Latino youth have many of the same needs of all youth: to be respected, nurtured, and intellectually challenged, to be creative and physically active, to be lovingly guided toward independence while developing a healthy sense of self and civic consciousness, to navigate and actively take part in an increasingly technological and global society.
Despite the fact that Latino youth now represent the majority of students in California public schools, they still experience discrimination from the dominant mainstream society. Afterschool programs need to highlight contemporary and historical leaders, scientists and artists from our immensely diverse communities for Latino youth to recognize role models they can look up to, and bring them face to face with their community leaders through field trips to museums, concerts and visits with elected officials, professionals, artists and community activists. In this way, afterschool has an essential role as a “transformative space” (Noam, 2004) for immigrant youth and their families to embrace their humanity, navigate the broader society with confidence, and assert their citizenship.
The afterschool space should be one where Latino youth can express their unique identities and interests and take on leadership roles—especially through arts-based curriculum and service learning. Afterschool programs can allow Latino youth to explore beyond the barrio boundaries. This is particularly important since many Latino and immigrant families hesitate to leave the haven of their enclave, and often lack the means of transportation, economic resources and social network to offer their children experiences outside the community.
Q: What role should afterschool assume for assisting ELL youth?
A: Make it safe to speak Spanish. Provide examples of the benefits of bilingualism by keeping adults (young and older) that are fluent in both languages in their midst. Give them plenty of opportunity to speak English, through collaborative group work, and performance [art, music, plays, singing, poetry readings etc.]. Make literacy an integral part of the afterschool program culture and curriculum. Always be reading, writing, speaking without judgment for accents or a loss of words or use of Spanglish. Provide the peer and adult mentorship that will allow English Language Learners to learn English well, without feeling shame for their Spanish ability. Promote bilingualism as a valuable asset.
Q: Which of the Learning in Afterschool principles do you deem relevant to Latino youth?
A: They are all relevant. None are more so than others. I would only emphasize that as educators we need to recognize that culture and politics matter. There is no education without culture and there is no apolitical education, as Freire (1970) asserts. Either we work to replicate limiting, and even oppressive, conditions for learners or we create experiences that empower them to fully realize their potential as individuals and to engage in transformative action that promotes justice and equity. I think that the LIA principles are essential to guaranteeing an education for freedom and for fully realizing the promise of all students and that of our great nation of immigrants.
A first generation Mexican American, Maria del Pilar O’Cadiz completed her MA in Latin American Studies along with an M.Ed. in Curriculum, Administration, and Teaching at UCLA, where she earned a doctorate in 1996. In 2000, she became executive director of the California After School Project (CASP) at the University of California, Irvine and later at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, working in partnership with the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) providing trainings and technical assistance for after school programs across Los Angeles County. She currently works as a Project Scientist at the University of California, Irvine in the Department of Education.