HHS Group Reaches Out to Hispanic Community

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HAC 9-21-15
Hermiston Hispanic Advisory Committee member Hector Ramirez, left, shares his thoughts on how to get Hispanic parents more involved in their children's education.

Editor’s note: This is an updated version clarifying remarks by Claudia Jimenez

The tables were turned on the Hermiston Hispanic Advisory Committee Monday night – instead of hearing how the committee can help the community, a segment of the community reached out to learn how it can help the committee.

The Hermiston High School Leadership group, led by Tom Spoo, listened throughout Monday’s meeting to ways it can help the Hispanic Advisory Committee (HAC) communicate more effectively with Spanish-speaking parents.

Suggestions ranged from encouraging more Hispanic students to participate in sports and other school-related activities to developing special events at schools for Spanish-speaking parents.

HAC Chairman Eddie de la Cruz said the biggest barrier to getting Hispanic parents involved in their children’s education was language.

“It’s a big roadblock for parents,” he said. “It’s very intimidating when you don’t speak the language.”

Former Hermiston High School graduate Claudia Jimenez agreed that the language barrier can have an adverse impact on students. She said when she was in high school, her parents couldn’t help her with her college aspirations because they didn’t understand the process. She said it was only after she learned from her school counselors about the various opportunities for students seeking a higher education, that her parents became her greatest supporters. That’s why she wants to see more effort to educate Hispanic parents about the process of applying for college.

“We have to work with and educate our parents so they can be more encouraging and supportive of their children’s dreams,” she said.

Leo Leal, manager of Fiesta Foods in Hermiston and chairman of the Eastern Oregon Hispanic Scholarship Foundation, suggested schools institute a Migrant Parent Night similar to one he was involved with in Sunnyside, Wash. The events were held twice a year with Fiesta Foods providing food and beverages. Schools provided child care if necessary and translators so parents could learn about their children’s education and various programs in the school.

“It took a couple of years to build up, but once we did, it really took off,” Leal said.

HAC member Clara B. Fitzgerald, a teacher at Riverside High School, said Boardman has a similar program that reaches out to Spanish-speaking parents.

“Many people in the Hispanic community don’t get involved in their children’s education because they are afraid of the unknown,” she said. She also said conventional ways in which schools communicate with parents aren’t as effective with Hispanic parents. Pre-recorded phone messages are seen as impersonal, she said.

“We like interpersonal communication,” she said.

HAC member Manuel Gutierrez said schools should better promote programs such as 4-H and FFA to Hispanic students.

“You don’t have to have a cow or a goat or a sheep,” he said. “A lot of these kids can’t afford animals or they live in apartments. But you don’t need an animal. You can learn speech or debate and other skills. These are education programs.”

Spoo said he was appreciative of the committee’s suggestions.

“I’ve taken more notes tonight than I ever have,” he said. “This is the kind of communication back and forth that we’ll continue. We’re not going to accomplish everything all at once, but we’re moving in the right direction for our students and our parents.”

The next HAC meeting will be at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 19 at Hermiston City Hall.