Parent College starts in Boyle Heights to address high school graduation rates

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Before heading into the Hollenbeck Middle School auditorium Saturday morning, a largely Latino crowd grabbed breakfast sandwiches and cinnamon-flavored Mexican coffee.

Not all the parents have kids at this school, but they have other things in common: these are working-class people, many of them immigrants, who know they need to participate more in their kids’ education, and who hope their children will eventually make it to college.

The keynote speaker, space engineer Veronica Garcia, told her own story: a child of Mexican immigrants, she excelled in school despite having little support from her parents. She was accepted to MIT on a scholarship, which she accepted, despite her father asking her to stay home.

“Sometimes we can be selfish with our kids,” she told the crowd in Spanish. “I hope you learn from my experience and encourage your kids to do better than yourselves.”

The “Parent College” model, a local school-based series of workshops meant to coach parents about engagement in their children’s education, started two years ago on a much smaller scale. It’s a project of the City of L.A.’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, funded largely by corporate sponsors and local foundations.

“The research shows that when parents are actively involved in their child’s education, we see better attendance, better retention, better behavior," said Saskia Pallais, director of community engagement for the Partnership. "We also see better grades, and in the end, graduation. So a core component for the partnership is that parents have to be true partners in their child’s education.”

Parents will be schooled over the next seven months during weekend workshops on, among other things, the importance of reading with kids, assisting them with homework, improving their math scores, and supporting school attendance. The hope is that parent involvement in immigrant and low-income L.A. neighborhoods will move beyond the school “bake sale” fundraiser, towards a holistic support of a child’s academic success.

Sitting inside a classroom, Georgina Anaya said she first heard about the workshop from Sunrise Elementary, her daughter’s school.

“The most important thing is that kids need to know exactly where and when to do their homework, when to read," explained Anaya. "As parents, we have to be on top of this — it’s not like we just send the kid to school and that’s it. We are just as responsible for them at school as we are at home.”

Anaya knows a lot about parent involvement, but she enjoys coming here to learn more, she says. Her 11-year-old, Destiny Barajas, sat next to her — an open notebook and pencil in hand.

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