‘Parent College’ Helps First-Gen Parents Navigate Higher Ed

The college admissions game is not for the faint of heart, and if forewarned is forearmed, then Parent College – a program started by Partnership for Los Angeles Schools – hopes to put power into the hands of parents who have never had a college experience of their own so they can help their kids achieve their higher education dreams.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Parent College is an unusual effort spread over 15 Los Angeles Unified campuses. The group sponsoring the program was founded in part by the current Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and and it takes as part of its mission a goal of undoing the myth that working class parents care less about their children's education.

Some of the information imparted in the Parent College workshops might seem pretty basic to those who've already been there. Participants learn how to read school report cards and get an idea of what college life is like on a day-to-day basis. Yet there appears to a be a need for exactly this kind of information. More than 800 people participated in the program's annual college tour this year – a record .

Martinez is typical of the parents the program seeks to help. One of 14 children raised on a small farm outside the town of Irapuato in Guanajuato state in Mexico, she had no formal education as a child, and was 15 before she learned how to read on her own.

"Every so often, my father would enroll us in school, but we didn't have money for notebooks or even a pencil," Martinez said. Embarrassed, she would soon drop out, she said.

Education was not a priority for the family. Instead, Martinez and her sisters were expected by their father to "do women's work," she said — cooking, cleaning, and more of the same later for their husbands and children.

The American attitude to education filtered into her family slowly, too. Her youngest siblings were all enrolled in school, and although Martinez herself was then too old to benefit, a high school diploma followed by a college degree was a dream she held for her own kids.

Yet the oldest of her five kids never even considered this path, choosing employment right after high school like a lot of their uncles and aunts did. It wasn't until her third child started showing real academic promise that Martinez got specific about her goals for him.

In Sergio's junior year, his Advanced Placement literature teacher told him about Parent College, and Martinez enrolled. In the monthly classes, she learned about college requirements and how to apply for financial aid.

Even after months of classes, participants in the program sometimes remain befuddled by the complexities of the U.S. education system. "It's uncharted territory for them," said Graciela Fernandez, director of the Student Outreach and Retention Center at UC Irvine.

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