By Belinda M. Gonzalez-Leon, Ed.D.
The percentage of Hispanic females living in poverty in the USA is 25% (The White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanics, 2015). This could cause Hispanic females to feel an obligation to assist their families financially which could mean less time for schooling. Living in poverty translates to living in poor neighborhoods which in turn typically means that area schools are of limited resources. This in turn signifies that Hispanic female children will most likely not attend vital pre-school education; receive a robust elementary education; and will probably attend a high school that does not have the resources to graduate college ready students (Espinoza, 2015). Hispanic children are the least likely of all subgroups in the United States to attend preschool (The White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanics, 2015). Yet, the National Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families (NRCHCF) conducted a study in which they found that Hispanic students who had attended preschool had above average proficiency on pre-academic and social-behavioral skills when they entered kindergarten (Carnock, 2015). When one considers that there are 17 states in the USA that report having a kindergarten population of at least 20% Hispanic females (The White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanics, 2015), the long term ramifications cannot be ignored.
In his research on Hispanic students, Dr. Saenz has found that early childhood education has a profound effect on both high school and college completion (personnel communication, September 22, 2016). Former United States of American Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also stated,
The shortage of Hispanic students on graduation day in college has its roots at the beginning of the education pipeline. One of the best, most strategic ways to continue and build on the educational progress in the Hispanic community is to expand access to affordable, high-quality preschool while also boosting college completion rates” (as cited in Davis, 2013).
NRCHCF also found that Hispanic students who attended preschool also did well on third grade standardized reading tests with 89% passing rate (Carnock, 2015). Third grade reading levels are seriously important for students in the USA. Jose Cruz of the Barrio Logan College Institute oversees programs that specifically address Hispanic students whose reading levels are below average levels in the third grade (personal communication, September 22, 2016). Mr. Cruz explained that if students are not able to transition from learning to read to reading to learn, then they will not be able to comprehend reading assignments through the rest of their elementary and high school programs (personal communication, September 22, 2016).
Also, within two years of this critical reading benchmark, it is typically in fifth grade that students are assessed in regards to their math skills. Elementary school Lead Teacher Joyce Aguila explains that based on a student’s fifth grade math level, decisions are made regarding how much advanced math a student can take before even entering high school (personal communication, October 19, 2016). Depending on how advanced the student’s level of math is by the time they start high school will determine whether said student can take advanced high school math courses that can earn the student free college credit as well as show colleges the level of achievement. Hispanic female students face great challenges if they do not meet the important requirements of preschool, third grade reading levels, and fifth grade math levels because Bui has found that students will make a determination to attend college as early as eight grade (as cited in Reyes & Nora, 2012).
It would appear that the ability to reach college graduation can be traced as far back as to preschool and therefore the cards are stacked against Hispanic female students from a very young age. The inability to take a rigorous curriculum in elementary or high school can prevent a student from earning free college credit, from impressing colleges with their high school education, and also does not allow a student to be adequately prepared for the rigors of college academics. According to Choy, Nuñez & Cuccaro-Alamin, Saenz, Hurtado, Barrera, Wolf, & Young, and Terenzini et al., (as cited in Deruy, 2016), first-generation college students (students are who are first in their family to attend college) are more likely to be Hispanic women. First generation college students face the challenge of not having parents to guide them through the sometimes complicated process of applying to colleges in the USA. First-generation students are more likely to have parents who find college financial aid forms difficult to fill out and are more likely to arrive on campus without proper academic preparation for a college curriculum (Mangan, 2015).
Choy also found that most first-generation Hispanic students are more likely to pick easier courses and avoid science and math courses (as cited in Reyes & Nora, 2012). Again, this leaves Hispanic female students unprepared for a college education and without the pre-requisites to pursue the most promising areas of study, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). In regards to STEM, Hispanic females are less likely to graduate with a degree in the science, technology, engineering, or math field than any other group of women (The White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanics, 2015). In 2010, only 3.5% of bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields were awarded to Hispanic females (The White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanics, 2015). A study by the Girl Scout Research Institute, found that Hispanic girls have a high interest in pursuing a STEM education because they possess high confidence and a strong work ethic, but making that pursuit a reality is difficult because of lack of support to follow STEM, less exposure to STEM programs, and general lower academic achievement when compared to non-Hispanic white girls (Girl Scout Research Institute, 2012).
The information provided above is an excerpt from a paper to be presented at the 10th Annual International Conference of 20th Century Women to be held in March at the University of Havana. Although an academic paper, the findings for parents are clear. Work closely with your students to ensure that they are meeting academic requirements in both third and fifth grade…and that is something that starts at least a year or two before entering those grades. Preschool is vital! Be sure to assist them during these specific years so that when they are finally ready to attend college, they have been armed with all the needed tools to be successful.