Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Serving the Needs of Latino Youth

By Sam Piha

Pilar O'Cadiz
The California Department of Education recently announced that Latino students now represent the majority of students in our public schools. We asked Pilar O'Cadiz, from the University of California at Irvine and a longtime researcher and evaluator of afterschool programs, to share her thoughts on the implications of this announcement for afterschool program providers. We abbreviated Pilar's answers, but we offer the complete text of her responses to our questions. A more complete bio follows this interview. 

Q: What do you think are the implications for this recent announcement by CDE?
A: Given that over half of this “new” majority of students will drop out by the time they reach high school (Orfield, 2004), a huge implication is the need to resurrect the vast research and practical knowledge base on the essential role of culturally relevant approaches in all educational endeavors. 

A key role for afterschool is to act as a liaison between the school and community. This means working to integrate the history, knowledge and resources of the community into the afterschool curriculum and program. It also means serving as a gateway into the institutional culture of the school, taking advantage of the fact that afterschool workers see the parents on a daily basis, are more likely to be from the community, and speak their native language.

The afterschool community must continue to create career pathways for the immense talent pool that exists within the Latino community. This will allow us to advance and carry the afterschool movement using the imagination and perseverance that our youth and young adults working in the afterschool field have already demonstrated. This is why I love the LIA Youth Ambassadors. We need more of these types of opportunities for Latino and all youth and young adults working in the field. 

Q: Over the last 20 years you have been researching the views and needs of Latino parents in regards to afterschool programs. What have you learned?

A: Nearly all the Latino parents I have interviewed and worked with over the years expressed as the most important reason for coming to this country, the betterment of future prospects for their child, their education, and quality of life. They fully recognize the value of afterschool programs in helping them achieve their dreams. 

Parents also express a desire to be involved in their child’s afterschool program, but opportunities are rarely afforded. I believe that this is largely due to language and cultural barriers, or erroneous assumptions about their lack of disposition. Afterschool programs need to create opportunities for Latino parents to be involved in a range of ways; not only as volunteers helping with fundraising events or watching kids during snack time, but also as educators. Program leaders can help parents define their aspirations for their children, identify their own talents and ways they can offer enrichment experiences for youth, and develop a voice in the advocacy for their children’s education. 

I think that it is important that the afterschool field help Latino parents comprehend what constitutes quality programming, as delineated in the LIA principles. Too often, Latino parents confuse homework completion with program quality. They should be made aware of the valuable learning that can take place during a good, interactive enrichment activity. The best way to do this is by engaging parents in similar activities as a parent group or alongside children and youth.


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. 

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