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Amy Aparicio Clark and Amanda Dorris describe how the PALMS Project supports educators' efforts to engage Latino parents in college preparation and enrollment.

The PALMS (Postsecondary Access for Latino Middle-Grades Students) project at Education Development Center aims to increase the number of Latino students who pursue postsecondary education. PALMS assists middle school leaders in developing parental outreach programs through its Tools for Latino Family Outreach, a set of 13 self-facilitated tools that guide schools in planning, implementing, and assessing programs that engage and empower families to support their children’s pursuit of higher education.

Since 2006, PALMS has worked with Helen Tyson Middle School in Springdale, Arkansas, and Hommocks Middle School in Larchmont, New York, to study how these schools develop outreach programs using the PALMS tools. Each site recruited a planning team to lead the program development process, which includes a) creating a vision of their desired future, b) collecting data on postsecondary aspirations and perceptions of school–family relations, c) setting outreach goals based on this data, d) choosing and implementing strategies to accomplish these goals, and e) assessing their progress through data collection and analysis.

Over a 2-year period, PALMS will document the process and outcomes associated with creating programs at each site. The data we collect will inform the development of a second edition of the tool kit, to be released in 2009. Our data collection methods include quarterly site visits to attend meetings and outreach events, biweekly phone interviews with the planning team facilitator, and face-to-face interviews with administrators, teachers, and parents at various points during the year.

One year into our study, the results are promising. By July 2007, both schools had used all 13 tools. At Hommocks, parents had founded the school’s first-ever Latino parent group. The 20 members and elected officers of Hommocks’ Padres Unidos por la Educación work with school staff to increase involvement of Hispanic families. Meanwhile, at Tyson, Hispanic parents had participated in focus groups led by bilingual school staff and interacted with local, bilingual higher education representatives at a school-sponsored College Night.

According to our initial data, central to the efforts at both sites is the school leaders’ conviction that programs must be codeveloped with parents in order to achieve genuine change. The two schools have implemented a variety of tactics to foster this collaboration, including:

Using data to plan and develop programs. The PALMS tool kit include surveys for teachers, parents, and students, which ask questions about care and respect at the school, communication between parents and school staff, and plans for postsecondary education. In December 2006, both schools used surveys from the tool kit to collect data on how parents perceive their relationship with the school. In the spring, they again solicited parents’ opinions in contexts conducive to open dialogue. For example, Tyson staff held focus groups at a nearby community center, where they asked parents for suggestions about improving communication between home and school.

Facilitating mutual responsibility for program development. Both schools have created opportunities for parents to contribute to program activities. At Hommocks, the PALMS planning team held a joint meeting—conducted in Spanish, with simultaneous interpretation for English-speaking staff—with Padres Unidos in March to discuss ideas for spring outreach events. Upon learning that parents wanted more opportunities to speak with their children’s teachers, the team began to plan parent–teacher events such as joint home visits by faculty and Padres Unidos members.

Maintaining flexibility in the face of unexpected developments. When severe spring flooding occurred in their town, Hommocks staff and Padres Unidos members reacted quickly, putting aside longer term plans and working together to organize a clothing drive for affected families, most of whom were Hispanic. In 2007–2008, the school team and the parent group will resume planning parent–teacher events, aided by the experience of having successfully collaborated on the clothing drive.

Over the next year, as the schools continue to reach out to parents, they will need to assess their progress in ways that extend beyond traditional quantitative approaches (e.g., counting how many parents attend an outreach event). We are addressing the need for researchers to develop robust, qualitative evaluation tools that capture the nuanced process of building partnerships. Because of PALMS’ focus on college, we plan to develop and add to our tool kit instruments to help leaders at these and other schools document interactions and activities shown to increase graduation and postsecondary education rates, such as conversations between parents and school staff about the students’ future educational plans. We look forward to meeting the challenge of developing self-facilitated materials that both recognize the demands on practitioners’ time and the need for examining school–family relationships at a deeper level.

Lumina Foundation and Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation provide support for research and development activities undertaken by the PALMS project.

Amy Aparicio Clark, M.Ed.
Project Director

Amanda Dorris, M.Ed.
Research Associate

PALMS Project
Education Development Center, Inc.
55 Chapel Street
Newton, MA 02458
Tel: 860-683-8593

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