Faculty News

Jeff Greene, Dana Griffin, Steve Knotek receive Phillips Memorial Fund challenge grants

Steve Knotek, P.I., and Jeff Greene, Co-P.I., “Madres Para Niños”

Many immigrant parents and their children face numerous challenges as they seek to acculturate and adapt to life in the United States. Issues such as parents’ economic status, English language proficiency, level of education, and social isolation may impact the degree to which parents are able to engage with the social institutions that are critical to their children’s development (Matthews & Jang, 2007). Some immigrants may even experience barriers to such basic resources as their children’s preschool and elementary school. Such challenges contribute to the low academic outcomes of children in immigrant families, especially those from low income families where the parents have low educational levels and low literacy levels. Consequently, effective approaches are needed to enhance and support these parents as they strive to promote their children’s educational, social, and physical development. 

Latinos are the fastest growing and largest minority group in the United States (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003). In comparison to all other ethnic groups, Latino children are less likely to participate in early childhood education (Verdugo, 2006) and are more likely to lag behind in critical kindergarten entry skills such as reading proficiency and letter recognition (West, Denton, & Reaney, 2000; Reardon, & Galindo, 2006) Though the full extent of the reasons for the lower Latino participation rate in preschool and the gap in academic achievement is not fully known, evidence suggests there are pernicious obstacles that limit Latina mothers' participation and active engagement in their children's early education (Fuller, Eggers-Pierola, Holloway, & Liang, 1996; Hernandez, Denton, & Macartney, 2004). 

One obstacle may be a lack of sufficient knowledge and experience with US school environments (Quezada, Díaz, & Sánchez; 2003). Latino mothers are often isolated from the resources, knowledge, and support that can help them promote their children's attainment of general educational goals in the US school system. If this gap is not met early on there are many potential costs to mothers and children. The President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans states that there is a critical need to help parents navigate the educational system, create partnerships between home and school, and increase motivation and awareness of children's educational needs.

Research demonstrates that the complex topic of early educational performance is magnified when considered in the light of two languages, two cultures, two environments, and one child’s acquisition of emergent literacy skills (Achhpal, Goldman, & Rohner, 2007; Gillanders & Jiménez, 2004; Reese & Gallimore, 2000).  Garcia and Gonzales have noted in Pre-K and Latinos: The Foundation for America’s Future that “To maximize the benefits of increased Latino participation in pre-k, programs should be structured to build upon the existing strengths within Latino communities, including strong family bonds, a high value on education achievement, and widespread support for public education and social systems” (2006, p. 2). An intervention that is designed to enhance and increase the knowledge and skills of immigrant Latino parents to support their preschool aged children’s successful transition to and readiness for kindergarten would need to attend to at least several of these issues.

The Madres para Niños (MpN) program seeks to address this issue by using group consultation as a service delivery model to provide Latina mothers with the opportunity to further enhance their knowledge and skills so that they may better navigate their children’s school entry process and support their children's educational attainment, especially in the critical areas of language and literacy.  MpN groups will each have a membership of six, immigrant Latina mothers whose eldest child will enter kindergarten at the beginning of the next school year. A trained bilingual consultant will facilitate the groups, which will meet for eight contiguous, one-and-a-half hour sessions, and be followed up with two booster sessions.  Each meeting will have a mix of content and process that aims to both present information and to support the mothers’ acquisition of specific skills.  The topics will range from understanding a few key aspects of language and literacy development to knowing the readiness expectations that schools have for kindergarten entry.  Process components will focus on improving participants’ ability to engage in proactive problem-solving on educational issues.  For example, one unit will have mothers learning how to use the library and then provide guided practice on storybook reading and conversation with their children.

The MpN intervention is designed to directly and positively affect the mothers’ knowledge, skills, practices, attitudes, beliefs, and problem solving skills. These positive changes will in turn directly affect the children’s performance in kindergarten, as measured by their outcomes on measures of kindergarten literacy skills. Thus, the effect of the intervention upon children’s performance is mediated by the mothers’ knowledge, skills, practices, attitudes, beliefs, and problem solving skills. However, there may be a small direct effect of the intervention on children from their brief participation in the onsite training of their mothers.