Latino Parents in the Rural Southeast: A Study of Family and School Partnerships

Latino Parents in the Rural Southeast: A Study of Family and School Partnerships

Johnson, Cynthia E

This qualitative study examined the collective factors of parenting practices in the context of Latino family culture, parental involvement, and community-school relations among Latino parents and school personnel in three rural southeastern communities. A total of 75 respondents, including school personnel and Latino parents, participated in focus groups and individual interviews. Recommendations for practice and future research are provided to school personnel and family professionals who work with Latino families.

A major shift in the Latino population is changing the landscape of communities, particularly public schools in the southeast. Both parents and school officials are facing challenges for which they have little training or experience and few resources.

Family development literature states that factors such as ethnicity, family cultural beliefs, parenting beliefs and experiences, child-rearing practices, parental involvement, parental education and socioeconomic status influence the academic achievement of Mexican American children (Delgado-Gaitan, 2001; Viramontez Anguiano, 2004). Key to the educational success of Latino children is the impact of family, school, and community partnerships and parents’ ability to navigate these interconnected systems (Desimone, 1999; Ramirez, 2003).

During the past 2 decades, the U.S. school system has experienced an influx of students from other countries. English is not the native language of many of these families (Gonzalez-Ramos & Sanchez-Nestor, 2001). Specifically in the southeast, there has been a dramatic increase of non-English speaking families who have migrated from Mexico. Some schools have had a steady increase in the number of Latinos; others have had an almost total shift in population (Viramontez Anguiano, Johnson, & Davis, 2004).

These population shifts not only influence the schools, but they also have an impact on the social and economic fabric of rural communities (Villenas, 2002). To add to the complexity of such population shifts, communities with growing Latino populations tend to be poorer, have higher rates of unemployment, and larger households (U.S. Census, 2001). Rural schools, similar to urban schools, lack resources and educational opportunities. Thus, southern schools that have traditionally not had a Latino student population struggle to meet the educational and cultural needs of these children (Holman, 1997; Schnaiberg, 1994).

Parenting style and cultural practices influence educational expectations, which in turn influence educational outcomes. Mexican Americans define education (education) as a holistic process that incorporates formal and moral education (Reese, 2001). Generally, the literature points to the strengths and resiliency of the Latino family and community system as providing the insulating factors necessary to instill, encourage, and support academic success (Viramontez Anguiano et al., 2004).

Although research documents the impact of parental involvement on academic achievement, little research exists on understanding parenting practices in the context of Latino family culture and the impact on rural Latino family and school partnerships. Still less is known of the relationship of school personnel and their ability to serve this growing population in the rural south. This study explores these factors and provides information about the experience of first generation Latino families with children in the public school system and their struggle to succeed.



Latino parents and school personnel in three rural southeastern schoolstwo elementary and one high school-participated in this study as a result of a recruiting effort at principals’ meetings. There were five teacher and teacher aide focus groups, two school administrator and support staff focus groups and one Latino parents’ locus group. One individual interview was conducted with a school administrator. Four individual interviews were conducted for parents who could not attend the focus group. The focus groups and individual interviews were conducted at schools and at parents’ homes. Tables 1 and 2 provide demographic information.

A preliminary meeting was scheduled with teachers, teacher aides, and school personnel to discuss the goals of the research, with permission from the school administration. The researchers answered questions and addressed concerns. Focus groups were scheduled after school for the school personnel; individual interviews were conducted based on availability. School personnel promoted the Latino parents focus group by mailing out a bilingual announcement and making phone calls to all Latino families. The East Carolina University Institutional Review Board and the Pitt County School District approved this study.


Qualitative methods were applied to collecting and analyzing the data. The focus groups and individual interviews lasted approximately 1 hour each. The researchers served as facilitators of the focus groups. School personnel focus groups and the individual interview were conducted in English. The second author conducted the parents’ focus group in Spanish, and he conducted the individual interview with the school administrator. A bilingual research assistant conducted the individual parent interviews. The focus groups and interviews were audiotaped with permission of the respondents. Research assistants recorded important themes from each focus group, which were utilized during the data analysis.

All respondents received a consent form to sign, which explained the goal of the study and the voluntary nature of participation. The consent form was read to those parents who were illiterate in Spanish and/or English and they provided consent by signing with an X. No material incentives were offered.

Interview Protocol and Data Analysis

An exhaustive interview protocol was developed based on previous research (Delgado-Gaitan, 1992) and one of the researcher’s previous field and research experience. It consisted of open-ended questions that explored ecological factors such as Latino family culture and parenting style, parental involvement and school participation, school partnerships, aspirations and expectations of children, challenges and successes of the educational system, and ways to enhance school-family relationships. Each interview protocol was adapted to the focus group type.

Responses from the parent focus groups and interviews were translated from Spanish to English and then back to Spanish to ensure data quality (Cassidy, 1994). Theme analysis was used to extract themes from the focus groups and interviews. Theme analysis is the process of extracting re-occurring themes from data (Miles & Huberman, 1994). After reviewing the transcripts, each researcher independently identified themes and then a consensus on important themes was established. One of the researchers conducted the theme analysis of parents’ data.


The major findings of the theme analysis demonstrated various barriers to developing a fluid Latino parent and school partnership (see Table 3). Challenges and strengths to parental and school involvement from both the parent and school personnel perspective were identified (see Table 4).


This qualitative study provided insight about challenges and strengths of the relationship between Latino parents and the educational system. Consistent with previous research (Delgado-Gaitan, 2001; Ramirez, 2003), a major finding was the importance of a positive impact on the parent-school partnership on children’s academic success. This study contributed to the research by providing a window of how southeastern rural schools were meeting the needs of a growing Latino population.

Parents in this study acknowledged their children’s educational gains but were aware that their limited English proficiency could result in lower educational outcomes for their children. School personnel were concerned about the increasing number of Latino students and the lack of adequate resources to accommodate the teaching-learning process. They also were keenly aware that school policies, such as end-of-grade testing, put additional strain on overextended systems.

These findings indicate that southeastern rural schools are in need of administrative support, cultural competency, bilingual school personnel, family-friendly school policies and positive family, school, and community collaborations. This finding is consistent with research from the southwest and west that has documented the historic struggle to meet the educational needs of Latino children (Delgado-Gaitan, 2001). Given the rapid change in the southeast’s cultural landscape, a model of collaboration between Latino families and school systems is essential to ensure the educational success of Latinos. This is particularly important with immigrant Latino families who have settled in the southeast recently and do not understand how to navigate the educational system.


This study illustrated the experiences of school personnel and Latino parents as they struggle to ensure the educational success of Latino children. Moreover, the study provided important information and implications related to the challenges that school districts in the rural south will continue to face.

Strategies for Practice and Research

Important strategies for practice and research for family and consumer sciences researchers, educators, and other family professionals are provided based on the current findings and on the researchers’ experience working with Latino and other diverse families (Viramontez Anguiano et al., 2004). These strategies and recommendations for future research can contribute to the body of knowledge, which can be used in responding to the challenges of Latino parents and schools in the rural southeast. (See sidebar.)



* Conduct an evaluation of school personnel and family professionals

* Pre-service and in-service training or coursework in cultural diversity

* School districts provide coursework in basic Spanish language for school personnel

* School districts offer courses in culturally and developmentally appropriate practices with Latino children

* Communities could develop partnerships with local universities that focus on the educational success of Latino children


* Investigate “immigration policy” and its impact on the educational success of Latino children in the southeast

* Investigate the effect of Latino extended family and fictive kin on the educational success of Latino children in the southeast

* Investigate the effect of Latino extended family and fictive kin on Latino family and school partnerships in the southeast

* Explore the interface between Latino family culture and gender and its impact on the educational success of Latino children in the southeast


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Schnaiberg, L. (1994, February). Immigration’s final frontier. Education Week, 13, 22-26.

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Villenas, S. (2002). Reinventing educacion in new Latino communities: Pedagogies of change and continuity in North Carolina. Education in the New Latino Diaspora: Policy and the politics of identity. Westport, CT: Ablex Publishing.

Viramontez Anguiano, R. P. (2004). Families and schools: The effect of parental involvement on high school completion. Journal of Family Issues, 25(1), 61-86.

Viramontez Anguiano, R., Johnson, C., & Davis, T. (2004). The education of Latino children: Rural Latino families and schools in eastern North Carolina. Journal of Early Education and Family Review, 11(3), 33-48.

Cynthia E. Johnson, PhD, CFCS

Associate Professor and Department Chair

Child Development and Family Relations

East Carolina University

Ruben P. Viramontez Anguiano, PhD, CFLE

Assistant Professor

School of Family and Consumer Sciences

Bowling Green State University

Copyright American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences Nov 2004

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