A solution to help kids get into college

Breaking the language barrier; a solution that helps parents become mentors with program that facilitates local kids getting into college

Video Transcript

- Applying for college is tough enough, now imagine doing it when English isn't your first language. Our Jovana Lara introduces us to the volunteers bridging the language gap and helping students achieve their college dreams.

JOVANA LARA: In this Whittier home, the kids aren't the only ones taking Zoom classes. Parents Jose and Yolanda Barrera just wrapped up three months of online Zoom sessions offered by the Whittier Union High School District.

JOE BARRERA: It's been a blessing, they've been involved.

JOVANA LARA: The pilot program, titled Padres Promotores de Camino El Exito Universitario is aimed at teaching parents of English learners key information to help their students get to college.

JOE BARRERA: It was not easy. And you know, being a immigrant from Mexico, both my myself and my wife, so that was a goal, you know, put our kids through college. And get it through, and believe me, it's a full time job.

JOVANA LARA: It's not easy for many families who don't speak English at home. Their EL students often struggle to become proficient enough to access higher learning. Whittier Union is working to change that. 9% of the roughly 11,000 students in the district are English learners, 89% are Spanish speakers, and 71% are socioeconomically disadvantaged. This new program is tailored specifically for the parents of these students.

FRANCISCO MEZA: So that is the root of the problem, that we have a group of students that regardless of our efforts in education, are not proficient enough to be able to succeed in their academic courses.

JOVANA LARA: EL support programs director Francisco Meza says it's crucial for schools and parents to work together to help students transition out of the EL program by demonstrating academic language proficiency.

ELBA SOLIS: But we also want them to understand the system, the high school system. How to graduate, what courses are required for graduation, how to apply for a college or university. Making sure that they know how to monitor their students' progress while in high school. That they know where resources are available on campus. That they know who to speak to if they ever need anything.

JOVANA LARA: And here's the kicker. The program educates and trains these parents to become mentors and share their knowledge with other parents.

DIANA VARGAS: During the pandemic, parents are going crazy researching how to help their teenagers to overcome this. Plus, we have our problem as an adult. So this program is just wonderful.

JOVANA LARA: And it's an empowering personal experience for the parents, too.

ELBA SOLIS: A lot of these parents have no idea how to even use a computer. They don't know how to open it, right? And so for them to actually create videos, and presentations, has been a really big deal.

JOE BARRERA: It's a process. But what we learn in this particular program is that you the voice of the parents count.

JOVANA LARA: There are now 11 trained parent mentors. The next group is scheduled for this coming August, and the program creators are hoping other school districts will follow in their footsteps.