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Helping Paulo stay on the pathway to college requires that Paulo and the adults in his world come together, communicate, and create a plan that will keep him engaged in school and meet his academic and social needs. Each person directly involved with Paulo has a unique perspective on what he might need, what his challenges and strengths are, and how best to support him. So how can these perspectives come together and create a dialogue? How can Paulo’s school help to welcome Paulo’s parents and reduce the barriers to their interactions with the school? Five key guiding principles make this possible.

Guiding Principles

Guiding Principle 1: Adolescence is a time of rapid development that involves navigating multiple learning and social settings. 
Adolescence, age 11‒17, is a time of rapid and sometimes stressful change. Youth transition into and out of middle school and then high school, go through puberty, and experience a burst of extraordinary brain development. Adolescents desire independence, autonomy, and time with peers, but at the same time, they continue to rely on guidance from parents and other adults. To be successful in school and in life, adolescents need trusting and caring relationships to help them stay connected and engaged across the variety of settings in which they learn―whether it is in school, afterschool programs, or other community learning settings.

Guiding Principle 2: Family engagement in academics and learning remains important in adolescence. 
Family engagement is considered to be part of a system that includes curriculum and instruction, teacher professional capacity, school climate, community connections, and leadership and management. Unfortunately, family engagement in education tends to decrease across middle and secondary school, due in part to adolescents’ increasing desire for autonomy and in part to changes in school structure and organization. Yet family involvement in education remains a powerful predictor of various adolescent outcomes, including higher rates of college enrollment.

Guiding Principle 3: Family engagement is a shared responsibility. 
Understanding that  family engagement is a shared responsibility means that educators across different learning settings are accountable for a student’s academic success and social well-being; which holds particularly true during times of transition. Moreover, efforts to share responsibility must place families’ culture, language, experiences, and desires at the forefront. In this case, Paulo’s parents maintain high expectations for his academics, but they feel largely unwelcome and intimidated by the school. The college community outreach program has taken a number of steps to create programming that opens pathways across the academic pipeline, but it is unclear how well families , the school, and other community settings are actively engaged in these efforts.

Guiding Principle 4: Family engagement matters across settings.

Youth experience success when they have an opportunity to explore their interests across a variety of learning settings both inside and outside of school. Technology and digital media have added a new layer to this idea, as youth can now access information anywhere and anytime they’d like. For learning of this nature to be most effective, students need to experience a sense of continuity across settings―both physical and virtual―and families need to be actively engaged across all of them. In this case, both school and an outreach program struggle to engage youth in meaningful ways, and it is not clear whether these organizations have reached out to Paulo’s parents to give them the skills and knowledge they need to concretely support Paulo. Recent attempts to use text messages to reach out to families and raise awareness about what they can do to support youth development show promising results. 

Guiding Principle 5: Family engagement is continuous across time.
The idea of “pathways” and “paths” appears prominently throughout this case. Students' pathways through school can be seen as moving through an academic pipeline to adulthood. However, we know that as students move through primary and secondary school to college, large numbers of ethnically diverse and low-income youth leave the pipeline prematurely. For students to succeed, families and educators must work together to create partnerships that span the duration of this pipeline. Random acts of family involvement at certain points in time are not enough to help students learn, grow, and stay engaged. Instead, family engagement must be intentional, persistent, and consistent across time. 

Reflection Questions: 
In the following questions, we ask you to consider how to connect the people and institutions in this case. Keep the five guiding principles in mind as you respond.

  • What crucial decision(s) must Paulo make? How does his developmental stage affect the situation?
  • How are the significant individuals in Paulo’s life influencing his life pathway (camino de la vida)?
  • How are Paulo’s parents involved in his education? What could the school do differently to help Paulo’s parents be engaged in ways that are developmentally appropriate and do not require them to have the technical knowledge about which they feel self-conscious?
  • What is the role of digital media in Paulo’s life? How can Paulo’s interest in video games become a platform for motivation to address his math challenges? How do his parents and teachers view his interest in video games?
  • How does starting the college outreach program in sixth grade affect Paulo and his family? Would starting the program earlier or later increase the likelihood that Paulo would participate and stay on the path to college?
  • What are some of the connections that Paulo’s family has to other families in the community? How have they served as a resource to Paulo so far?
  • How can Nancy, Rachel, and other school and nonschool educators share responsibility with Paulo’s family to ensure that Paulo makes a smooth transition to high school and stays on the path to college?
  • What can the school do to develop relationships with Latino parents whose chil­dren are at risk of dropping out? How can it ensure that it is promoting family engagement in ways that are developmentally appropriate and effective for the child?
  • How does the social and cultural position of first-generation immigrant Latino families put them at risk for unfavorable youth educational outcomes? What school and community supports should be available to Latino families? To what extent are the supports offered in this case sufficient to keep Latino youth on the right track?

Related Resources:

This case was developed by Dr. Catherine Cooper. Learn more about her work in these publications:

Cooper, C. R., Chavira, G., Mikolyski, D., Mena, D., & Dom, E. (2004). Bridging multiple worlds: Building pathways from childhood to college. Retrieved from

Cooper, C. R., Domínguez, E., & Rosas, S. (2005). Soledad's dream: How immigrant children bridge their multiple worlds and build pathways to college. In C. R. Cooper, C. T. García Coll, W. T. Bartko, H. M. Davis, & C. Chatman (Eds.), Developmental pathways through middle childhood: Rethinking contexts and diversity as resources. Mahwah, NJ: Laurence Erlbaum Associates.

Cooper, C. R., Gonzalez, E., & Wilson, A. R. (2015). Identities, cultures, and schooling: How students navigate racial-ethnic, indigenous, immigrant, social class, and gender identities on their pathways through school. In K. C. McLean & M. Syed (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of identity development. New York: Oxford University Press.

Cooper, C. R. (2011). Bridging multiple worlds: Cultures, identities, and pathways to college. New York: Oxford University Press.

You can also learn more about transition to middle school and youth engagement at:

Crosnoe, R. (2009). Family–school connections and the transition of low-income youths and English language learners from middle school to high school. Developmental Psychology, 45(4), 1061–1076.

Deschenes, S. N., Arbreton, A., Little, P. M., Herrera, C., Grossman, J. B., & Weiss, H. B. (2010). Engaging older youth: Program and city-level strategies to support sustained participation in out-of-school time. Harvard Family Research Project, Public/Private Ventures, Wallace Foundation. Retrieved from:

Lopez, M. E. (2015). Leave them wanting more!: Engaging youth in afterschool. Harvard Family Research Project. Retrieved from:!-engaging-youth-in-afterschool

Want to Know More About Family Engagement in Adolescence?
Check out our bibliography of family engagement in adolescence to find out more about the importance of family engagement during this time.

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Thank you for taking the time to complete HFRP’s interactive case. Please email Margaret Caspe with your ideas or any other feedback you might have about the interactive case experience. 

image of Paulo, sixth grader image of Paulo's parents image of Paulo;s math teacher image of college student and family friend of Paulo image of community college outreach program director small image of a data table image of 6 characters in this teaching case
Paulo, sixth grader
Paulo’s parents Math teacher College student and family friend Community college outreach program director Supporting data Piecing it all together

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