Improving Hispanic children's school readiness

11/4/2013

All too often the findings of academic dissertations are limited to the few who read academic journals. But in the case of our very own Dr. Maira Martelo, a recent graduate of the Education Leadership doctoral program at University of North Florida, her research on the early literacy practices and beliefs of Hispanic families is already sparking action.

Given low educational outcomes for Hispanic children nationally, Maira wanted to find out what might be happening with Hispanic families in Jacksonville that led to their children not being adequately prepared for kindergarten. She surveyed and interviewed two groups - Hispanic families who enrolled their children in Voluntary Pre-K programs and those who didn't. She found that regardless of whether they enrolled their children in VPK, all of the families cared deeply about their children's well-being and success in school. Those who enrolled their children in VPK spent more time reading and engaging in other literacy activities with their children. Yet all families expressed concerns about their ability to help their children or to access programs to help their children due to the barriers of language differences, transportation and/or legal status.

Maira presented her findings to several groups including the Mayor's Hispanic American Advisory Board, the Hispanic Health Council and The Early Learning Coalition. Shortly after these meetings, alignment and coordination efforts began between Duval County Public Schools and the Early Learning Coalition. DCPS is planning to create the first official bilingual VPK targeting Hispanic students, specifically Mexicans who struggled the most with barriers. DCPS will have a radio segment in the Hispanic media where they will inform parents about how to effectively engage in their children's education.

Lessons learned? Maira's research was extremely practical and timely. She identified the groups who could immediately make changes happen for Hispanic families, sought them out and presented her findings to them and has remained involved with them as they implement solutions. Hats off to Maira, her UNF advisors, the Hispanic and Early Learning stakeholder groups for recognizing and acting on research-based solutions to improve Hispanic children's readiness for school.

Recently Maira was nominated to receive the Mayor's Hispanic Leadership Award for her work with the local Hispanic communities.

--Pam Paul

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