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PTA conference addresses Hispanic parents’ involvement

PTA members listened to a panel of five,as they spoke on meaningful and engaging dialog in the hispanic community. With a shared commitment to educational excellence and the success of every child National PTA and the Hispanic Foundation convened parents and education leaders from across the country for the first Hispanic engagement symposium at the Charlotte Convention Center, on Thursday, June 25, 2015.
PTA members listened to a panel of five,as they spoke on meaningful and engaging dialog in the hispanic community. With a shared commitment to educational excellence and the success of every child National PTA and the Hispanic Foundation convened parents and education leaders from across the country for the first Hispanic engagement symposium at the Charlotte Convention Center, on Thursday, June 25, 2015. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

Involving the parents of Hispanic students in schools is a focus of the National Parent Teacher Association meeting in Charlotte this week.

Hispanic students make up 21 percent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ population, a number reflected nationwide. Nearly one in four U.S. public school students is Hispanic, the association says.

But their parents face barriers – including cultural and linguistic differences and a lack of documentation – that block many of them from classrooms. The association’s annual conference, which meets through Sunday at the Charlotte Convention Center, aims to help fix that.

Mercedes Cerrato, president of Georgia’s Hispanic/Latino Statewide Community PTA, said “culture shock” can make Hispanic parents, especially recent immigrants, skeptical about getting involved in their kids’ schools.

“In our countries, they don’t have PTAs, they don’t have family engagement,” she said at a conference session Thursday.

Those who want to get involved often confront language barriers and limited office hours that don’t work for parents balancing multiple jobs.

Cerrato said she once translated when a teacher who didn’t speak Spanish needed to talk to a mother who didn’t speak English. Without a translator present in parent-teacher conferences, the teacher’s warnings that the woman’s son wasn’t doing well in class were getting lost.

“The mom, who does not understand one word she’s saying, just smiles at the teacher and says ‘Okay, okay,’ ” Cerrato said.

When Cerrato translated the teacher’s comments, “the mom was totally shocked” to learn about her son’s poor performance – and the feedback enabled her to take action. The boy is doing better now, Cerrato said.

Jose Antonio Tijerino, president and CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C., said his own child faced learning issues in school.

Tijerino was able to research programs to help his child. But not all parents, he said, would have the Internet access or English comprehension necessary to fight for their child’s education.

Parents who are undocumented immigrants face particular challenges if they want to volunteer in CMS classrooms.

Parents without documentation can attend parent-teacher conferences and meet their children for lunch, but CMS policy requires all classroom volunteers to pass background checks.

CMS spokeswoman LaTarzja Henry said that in response to community activism, the system’s practices are evolving to help undocumented immigrants get involved in schools, albeit with supervision.

Volunteers with “unsupervised access” to children, such as tutors or field trip chaperones, are still required to provide a photo ID and Social Security number.

CMS doesn’t track how many undocumented students or family members are in the system. The number of Hispanic students in the school district has increased rapidly, jumping almost 10 percent in 2014-15.

The U.S. Census Bureau released estimates Thursday that showed Mecklenburg County’s non-white Hispanic population grew 14.8 percent between 2010 and last year. People who are Hispanic now make up 12.7 percent of the county’s population.

Many of them have kids in public schools.

“You want to be involved,” Cerrato said. “Believe me, (parents) do want to be involved.”

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