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‘Es el Momento’ Bridges 2 Worlds to Promote Hispanic Education Achievement

Two girls

Sylvia Acevedo, coordinator of Es el Momento Education Fair, to be held at CSU Dominguez Hills on Oct. 9, 2010.

CSU is teaming up with the media giant Univision and dozens of other higher education institutions, K-12 educators and community organizations to produce 'Es el Momento,' the largest education fair in the western United States.

Organizers and volunteers for the event have a single goal in mind: Bridging a cultural gap between Spanish-speaking parents and California's education system. And, as the title states in Spanish, “The time is now.”

"They are two worlds apart," said event coordinator Sylvia Acevedo, founder and president of CommuniCard, a company that specializes in producing educational events for Spanish-language audiences.

Acevedo is training staff and volunteers who will work in the Es el Momento Education Fair, which will take place at California State University, Dominguez Hills, from noon to 5 p.m., on Saturday, Oct. 9.

Why a College Education Fair for Parents?

Fairs of this type are needed, Acevedo said, because not knowing the U.S. education system harms the educational opportunities of a significant portion of the rising generation and will hurt the nation’s competitive edge related to the availability of a highly skilled workforce.

The U.S. educational system often is best navigated by a U.S.-born "soccer mom" who aspires to see her son or daughter attending college. An immigrant mother, on the other hand, typically lacks knowledge of how the U.S. educational system works.

As an example, Acevedo said, only 5 percent of immigrant Latino parents in a survey were able to mention the name of an American university and none showed familiarity with the term NCAA, an acronym for the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Meanwhile, 80 percent of Spanish-speaking immigrant parents were familiar with the acronym FIFA, which identifies the governing body for the international soccer association.

"NCAA Division I and II schools dole out more than $1.5 billion in college athletic scholarships every year and most immigrant parents are not aware of it," Acevedo said.

A student with a raised hand.

Please, would someone tell me how to enroll at the CSU?

At the fair, parents will see hundreds of people wearing college T-shirts. Workers and volunteers will proudly display logos of Cal State campuses, UCLA, USC, Stanford and others.

Organizers are already collecting T-shirts from California community colleges and universities for the October event. They also welcome T-shirts from out-of-the state universities.

"Wearing a college T-shirt is another way to familiarize parents with the names of U.S. colleges and universities," Acevedo said to the volunteers. 

Avoiding Communication Gaps

Higher education officials and community volunteers who will work at the fair are trained to communicate in meaningful ways to Latino parents to ensure that their messages is not lost in cultural gaps.

Volunteers who are training for the fair learned the story of a high school senior from Austin, Tex., who almost missed his opportunity to become an athlete at Rice University from a lack of a common mind frame between education officials and the parents. The parents heard that their son had earned a scholarship to play soccer at Rice University. They responded that it was not necessary for their son to move to Houston since he could play soccer at home. The parents didn't get an essential piece of information that was implied in the message: playing soccer at Rice meant their son would have a full scholarship to attend college as a student athlete.

CSU Summer Algebra Institute class of 2009 visits a CSU campus.

Attendees to last year's Education Fair check the CSU brochure that explains the steps to college.

Empowering Parents

At Es el Momento, parents with limited English will not have to rely on their kids to guide them.

Parents will receive information transmitted in their own language.  There will be thousands of one-to-one conversations in Spanish about schools, academic preparation, testing requirements, college life, careers, sports, athletic scholarships, financial aid, and resources to enter and succeed in higher education.

Direct communication to parents conducted in their most comfortable language empowers them to take action and make decisions to further their children's educational opportunities; it also relieves the child from the responsibility to being the interpreter between his parents and representatives from the educational system.

Two Cultures: Different Expectations

American schools have the expectation of parental involvement. Yet, immigrant parents whose formal education often doesn’t go past the 6th grade don't feel qualified to participate in school activities or teach their children. They see teachers as education authorities and believe they will do their best for their children.

At the fair, parents will hear that they can be active participants and decision makers in the educational system. They will meet people who can point them to resources and opportunities that will help them to effectively guide their children to educational success.

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