Community Commentary: Student success rests on many factors

A few years ago, I wrote a column in this newspaper regarding Hugo Rubio, a sweet boy who used to alternate between Spanish and English to communicate with his sister and his parents at home.

Hugo is now 11, and his English is more dominant than his Spanish, but he continues to intermingle both languages on a daily basis.

Like other Latino students in the Westside neighborhood of Costa Mesa, Hugo faces big challenges at school.

His success depends on how much academic material he is he able to assimilate in the classroom, how much help he can get at home, and whether or not his social environment has a positive or negative impact on him.

According to the latest figures of the California Department of Education (CDO), Adams Elementary School, Hugo's school, scored a 4 out of 10 in the statewide Academic Performance Index (API).

Some critics are eager to condemn school administrators and Newport-Mesa Unified School District leaders for not taking proactive measures to improve scores. Others blame it on the education system for not being flexible enough to accept changes.

A few paranoid minds in Costa Mesa, whose views overemphasize racial issues, blame it entirely on the students themselves.

Because the problem is complex, and there is no single medicine to cure the illness, our focus should transcend simple answers. We must seek a multifaceted solution that involves parents, teachers, school administrators and nonprofits. In addition, a thorough socioeconomic study is required to fully identify the problems on this issue.

Consequently, weaknesses at Westside schools are found everywhere. The CDO, besides providing standardized exams, also gathers other valuable information relative to the children's family.

It provides parents' education statistics. According to the data collected, 65% of Pomona Elementary parents did not graduate from high school; it's 63% at Wilson and 60% at Whittier elementary schools. Although Adams Elementary is in the heart of upscale Mesa Verde, most of its students share some socioeconomic characteristics with children in the Westside.

Another relevant source is the 2010 U.S. Census. Accordingly, 35.8% of the 109,960 people in Costa Mesa are Latino. Most are concentrated in the Westside.

Based on the API, particularly on the parent's education data, we could assume that a large number of Latino parents are immigrants from Mexico or a country in Central America. Because many do not hold high school diplomas, we could also assume that they came from their country's rural areas, where school dropout rates are quite high.

In addition, the CDO shows that most parents of Westside schoolkids lack a college education. Graduation rates are extremely low: 4% at Pomona; 5% at Wilson and Whittier; and 16% at Adams. Parents with graduate degrees are almost nonexistent.

Overall, and compared with other schools in the same district, the above data suggest that students in Westside schools might not have adequate levels of interaction with their parents while doing their homework. This, however, does not mean that parents are not interested in their children's success.

On the contrary, they want them to achieve college degrees, but unfortunately they have little, if any, means or mechanisms to contribute in their educational development.

To curve the above problem, administrators launched after-school programs throughout the district. Overall they are helpful, but not enough to solve the problem.

Recently, Isabelle Monje, head of nonprofit Worldwide Transformation, introduced a community program in the Westside under the umbrella "Serve the People." Monje's work focuses on helping parents to understand the school system.

Her work began at the Shalimar Learning Center in Costa Mesa with positive results. Serve the People is an innovative program, and worthy to be part of our education system, at least in Westside schools.

In the end, my friend Hugito not only needs good teachers to get As.

He also needs seasoned parents, school authorities willing to take risks in providing new programs, proactive nonprofits, and a community willing to understand his shortcomings.

HUMBERTO CASPA, an educator and a former Daily Pilot columnist, lives in Irvine.

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