Towards Closing the Achievement Gap: Increasing Academic Preparedness and Ambition among Latino Students

Lyndsey Paige Wilson
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This report examines methods of fostering Latino students’ postsecondary success, specifically asking the question: How effective has the GEAR UP program’ s approach to achieving academic preparedness and postsecondary ambition been at Walla Walla High School? This report profiles the best methods of improving students’ academic capabilities to prepare them for postsecondary education and analyzes how well Walla Walla High School’s GEAR UP intervention programs prepare students for post-graduation success. I also examine the best ways of encouraging Latino students to pursue postsecondary education and consider how GEAR UP in Walla Walla promotes student ambition. Lastly, I focus on how successful programs have integrated Latino parents into the postsecondary preparation process and evaluate the programs the Washington State University Tri-Cities GEAR UP Partnership has implemented to facilitate parental involvement.

Methods: To address these issues, I have engaged in a thorough review of scholarly literature that comprehensively describes the state of education for Latino students, environmental barriers to success, cultural misunderstandings, and effective intervention programs targeting both students and parents. I then compiled a list of criteria, substantiated by the research that prior scholars engaged in, to evaluate GEAR UP’s success in each of my three variable areas: academic preparation, college awareness, and parent involvement. My primary research consisted of a series of interviews with administrators, teachers, students, and parents in the Walla Walla School District to gain a multi-faceted understanding of perspectives regarding perceived barriers to Latino postsecondary success13. I also sought suggestions from these various stakeholders in the education system to assess the effectiveness of GEAR UP in ameliorating unequal opportunity and to enable me to customize recommendations to the Walla Walla School District.

Findings: To generate a college-going culture, advocates must shift the separation between the home and school domains in Latinos households to a dynamic partnership between the two. This ideal collaboration of parents and teachers will provide the foundation for communicating the value of post-secondary education and transmitting college-relevant capital necessary for academic preparedness, awareness, and persistent parental involvement. While studies and personal interviews overwhelmingly substantiate the fact that Latino parents are eager for their children to pursue higher education, the findings show that cultural misunderstandings perpetuate the notion of parental apathy and stifle the potential for successful teacher-parent partnerships and co-construction of an educational environment conducive to language-minority students.

Recommendations: The Walla Walla School District should focus on the development of this parent-teacher partnership, originating in school efforts to mobilize parents according to culturally relevant avenues of inclusion. Although academic preparedness and college awareness are both components of my secondary question and foci of the GEAR UP program, my investigations suggest that the Walla Walla School District has instituted a series of programs that effectively and equitably meet the needs of the Latino student community. Within the school environment, I recommend further professional development in multi-cultural education for teachers and staff, the implementation of case management programs partnering college and high school students to provide individualized attention and empowerment, and lastly, the incorporation of extracurricular activity organizations into the GEAR UP partnerships to increase retention, transmit social capital, and foster well-rounded student development. In terms of parental involvement, my recommendations include the facilitation of self-organized parent organizations, training Latinos to serve as parent-teacher liaisons, implementation of college awareness programming in already-existing social spaces, and on-site programming conducive to the unique needs of low-income or language-minority parents.

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