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Jose-Pablo Fernandez talks about aiming for the win-win in Texas - Parents Alliance
Jacqueline Beretta

December, 2008

” We find ourselves at a remarkable hinge in history, a time when 75 percent of everyone in the region who is 60 years old or older is Anglo, and close to 75 percent of everyone under the age of 30 is either black or Hispanic. These are the two populations that are by far the most likely to be living in poverty and that have been the least well served historically by the region’s educational and social service institutions.

Clearly, if the socioeconomic disparities are not substantially reduced, if too many of Houston’s ‘minority’ youth remain unprepared to succeed in the knowledge economy of the twenty-first century, it is difficult to envision a prosperous future for the region. This is also true, of course, for the state of Texas as a whole.

Without sustained and determined intervention to improve the quality of the public schools and family support systems, Texas will be unable to develop the educated work force that the new economy requires.

On the other hand, it is equally clear that if the education and income gaps can be substantially reduced, Houston (and Texas) will be in a position to capitalize fully on the advantages of having a young, multicultural and multi-lingual workforce, and will be well positioned for competitive success in the new economy.

Much will depend upon how this generation of leadership responds to the challenges and opportunities inherent in these remarkable transformations.”

- Dr. Stephen L. Klineberg - Investing in Human Capital. Parents Alliance, 2008

What is your new, innovative idea to create lasting social change?

Parents Alliance creates grassroots participation of parents at the schools their children attend to achieve broad social impact.

We bring low-income parents to the schools their children attend and teach them computer technology and life skills in the language they understand. They learn a marketable skill and increase their educational level, fulfill their potential as heads of households, and find opportunities for self-improvement that, in turn, allow them to become role models who influence their children’s educational attainment. We empower parents through education.

Parents become familiarized with the school setting, the teachers and the school system. Our educational program has become the catalyst that school principals are using to build and increase family involvement in the schools.

We identify three avenues that yield this strategic objective: parents as learners, parents as leaders, and parents as support for their children. By exposing parents to computer technology (learners), life skills (leaders), and the education system (supports for their children), we create lasting social impact while developing human capital.

When and how did you come up with your idea?

In 2000 I was hired as Executive Director of the Mexican Cultural Institute in Houston. One day I read about an annual survey done by Dr. Stephen Kineberg, a sociologist from Rice University. I invited him for lunch and he gave me great advice: you should provide education to Hispanic immigrants and make sure they graduate from high school. The question was what kind of education. We started teaching computer technology to 12 adults in Spanish at a community-based organization in February 2002. Later on two elementary schools joined the program and the results were amazing. That was my Aha! Moment. I knew that we had to focus on parents and teach them at the schools their children attend.

The idea of bringing parents to the schools stroke a cord with school principals. What they like about it is that the training is at the school and we do it with our own people: our teachers are parents who have taken the course already. The idea is always evolving because there are always new things we learn, some others we make better, and lots of people help us better understand the learning process. In 2008 we started offering our program in English.

As specifically as possible, demonstrate the need for your program.

The most profound risk facing low-income families today is the failure of so many of their children to graduate from high school. Their high dropout rates and low levels of college education, and inadequate mastery of English constitute serious threats to the future of our nation. (Nat’l Research Council)

Low-income parents face many challenges. In particular, there is a lack of familiarity with technology and a lack of access to computers and Internet technology at home or in the communities. The ramifications of their social and educational reality are evident in the type of jobs that most are able to obtain as well as the educational opportunities available to them. (Klineberg)

Parents, especially those with students trapped in low-income or low-performing schools want to be involved and want their children to succeed. What parents need is an access point — a way into schools — so they can become partners in helping students learn and achieve. (Gates Foundation)

Parents are clearly ready to help their children succeed academically, but they need information and tools from the schools to do so. (Gates Foundation, 2008)

What’s the root cause of this problem? How does your program tackle this root cause?

Poverty and poor education are at the root of low-achieving children. Parents living in poverty have low academic credentials, earn low wages and need to work two or more jobs. Families usually live in crowded households with inadequate health and nutrition, and children attend schools with low quality programs. Hispanic immigrants speak little or no English. All these deficits mean that parents cannot help children with homework, cannot take the time for meetings with teachers, and do not know how to be constructive advocates for their children.

Since 2000 the number of people living in poverty in Texas increased by over 700,000 people—more than double any other state. Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be living in poverty. (Poverty in America, 2008)

We provide parents with educational resources to remove deficits of poverty. We focus on parents because they are the most influential factor in the education of their children, and we have found that by teaching them computer technology at the schools, we empower them.

We provide an access point in a non-threatening environment at the school where parents become partners in enhancing their children's educational achievement.

Describe how you plan to deliver your long-term outcomes

In partnership with the schools, we offer parents courses to learn computer technology in their own language at convenient hours. The opportunity to learn how to use a computer brings parents to the classroom, and the idea of receiving a certificate at the end of each course, motivates them to finish the program. For many of them, our certificate is the first they have ever received.

Our key to retention is to motivate parents and help them realize that mastering the computer is an attainable goal. Parents regain their self-esteem and their children feel proud about their parents going to school. During class parents also learn Life Skills through simple workshops that provide basic information and are available online for public use.

Yanet Gomez of San Antonio is a parent. She said, “In my days off I come to school to learn how to use the computer. I end up my day very tired, but it doesn’t matter; I know that one day all this will be worth it.” This is the core of our efforts.

Parents perform activities that are e-mailed to their online tutors –many of them community college students. We encourage tutors to maintain contact with parents and comment about their experiences as college students. This connection is important to instill in parents the value of a post secondary education.

We train facilitators to teach the courses and we evaluate results that allow us to make changes and improvements.

How will you measure your progress toward these outcomes?

When schools work together with families and the community to support learning, children will succeed not just in school, but in just about anything they do in life. The first change we see is that the self-esteem of the parents increases as they begin to acquire new knowledge.

Our goal is that parents may proudly assert: I know how to use a computer; I can help my children with their schoolwork; Education is important, I can apply for a new job.

- We will enroll a total of 4,040 parents: 1,120 during 2009 at 35 schools; and 2,920 during 2010 at 85 schools in Texas.
- Our program consists of two courses: (1) Basic Skills and (2) Microsoft Office.

We expect that:
- 90% or more parents who enroll will finish Course 1 and will learn basic computer technology skills using Microsoft’s Curriculum.
- 75% or more parents who finished Course 1 will enroll in Course 2.
- 85% or more parents who enroll will finish Course 2 and will learn Microsoft Office.

Parents fill entrance and exit questionnaires to allow us evaluate our program. We carry out surveys to find out what have parents done with the newly acquired skills and we will also publish Success Stories in our web site.

Specifically, how are you doing then?

During 2008 we offered our PACT Program™ to 161 parents at 10 schools in Texas with results that far surpassed our expectations. Our Microsoft-based curriculum offers critical workforce skills needed for today’s knowledge economy in English and Spanish. Through our collaboration with Microsoft, we are providing Digital Literacy to the Unaccompanied Alien Children Program at Crockett elementary school in Houston.

Success Rates

“The education of my child is the most important thing. This is why learning to use a computer is a worthwhile accomplishment.”

- Margarita Martinez of San Antonio, Parent

During the first semester we enrolled 78 parents. Our completion rate was 93.5 percent. For the second semester we have enrolled 83 parents: 38 in Houston, 33 in San Antonio, and 12 in DeSoto (South Dallas).

San Antonio ISD
We started our PACT Program™ in San Antonio with 13 parents at Briscoe elementary school, invited by Mr. Ruben Fernandez, Director of Parent, Community & Business Partnerships. Thanks to the efforts of Miss Julie Benavides, school principal, and Emily Purificato, facilitator, 12 parents finished the course. The school district is selecting five schools to add to our program in 2009.

North East ISD, San Antonio
In collaboration with Don Dalton, Director of Curriculum Compliance, we started our PACT Program™ at Olmos and Camelot elementary schools. Our program in English at Camelot enrolled 13 parents: 8 Hispanics and 5 non-Hispanic. The school district will evaluate results to offer program to more schools in 2009.

Crockett Elementary, Houston ISD
Through Genesys Works we donated 15 computers that are used to teach our PACT Program™ to 20 Hispanic parents and Digital Literacy to 90 children under the Unaccompanied Alien Children Program. Miss Elida Troutman, school prin¬cipal, and Maria Montemayor champion these programs. The school is considering offering our program in English in 2009.

Spring Branch ISD
We started our program at Landrum Middle School with 18 parents. School principal Mr. Luis Pratts is a firm believer in parental involvement and has successfully enrolled parents in the PTA.

Dallas ISD
We offered our program to 65 parents at four schools in Dallas ISD. Conchis Silva, Manager of Adult Education said that: “We implemented the program at four of our schools with success. The feedback is very positive.”

DeSoto ISD
Moates elementary started our program in November with 12 parents. This is a pilot program coordinated by Kristie Moore, Director of Parent Assistance & Community Partnerships.

What is one thing that you see for the future that will be of great benefit for your parents?

Parents and schools will soon be able to benefit from Translate it Now and Reading Companion that we are able to offer through the special collaboration we have with IBM. ¡TraduceloAhora! enables instant translations English-to-Spanish and Spanish-to-English of e-mails between parents and teachers.

To learn more about Parents Alliance and offer Support, contact:
JP Fernandez, Founder & CEO
Parents Alliance, Inc.
Phone: (713) 871-0744


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