Building better bridges

HB Independent

Two Huntington Beach High School educators were honored for their work empowering Latino parents to get involved in their children's educations.

Roxanna Jimenez, a bilingual parent liaison, and Kimberly McGlaughlin, an English teacher, were awarded the Community Leader Award by Orange County Human Relations, a nonprofit county agency working to end intolerance and discrimination, at the 39th annual Human Relations Gala Celebration at the Grove of Anaheim on May 6.

The two were honored for their work with the Parent Latino Initiative, a group they started three years ago. The program started as a way to teach Latino parents new to the country or the school system about how to make their children more successful.

"We can all step back and complain about Latino residents ... or we can work with them to educate them," Jimenez said.

Jimenez, a native Spanish speaker, said she used to call parents all the time, always explaining the same problem to them, but it wasn't helping.

"They don't understand the system — the United States school system," McGlaughlin said.

The problem was that parents weren't sure if they would be able to communicate with school officials and were afraid to speak up. The lack of parent involvement left some Latino kids failing classes, ditching and dropping out of school, Jimenez said.

The Parent Latino Initiative is helping parents bridge the information gap by teaching them what grades signify, what it means when the school calls for absences, how to check their progress online and what school rules mean, and giving them tours of the campus so they feel more comfortable.

Teaching parents how to navigate academic life wasn't enough, though. The initiative teaches parents about what is available to them in their community and what rights they have. They regularly have lectures, including police officers talking about gang violence and drugs, and information on sex education and debt counseling.

Students are also encouraged to participate in the meetings, especially with guest speakers on college, and the group goes on field trips to local campuses.

Since the program started two years ago, the parents they work with feel more comfortable coming to campus and taking charge of their children's education, Jimenez and McGlaughlin said.

"It's just amazing how it's changed," Jimenez said.

There is a core of about 20 parents who come to the Tuesday night meetings in the Huntington Beach High School library, but anyone is welcome. The program has parents whose children aren't even at the high school yet.

McGlaughlin and Jimenez have been running the program, but the vision is to have parents running it and taking charge of their children's educations.

"We've been doing a lot of that work. Now we're saying, 'Parents, this is your group. This is all about your empowerment,'" McGlaughlin said.

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