Training program leads to gains for parents, UC Berkeley researchers find

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Researchers at UC Berkeley have found that a national training program aimed at encouraging Latino parent participation in children’s education has resulted in substantial gains in parent knowledge of child growth and development.

Head researcher Margaret Bridges and her team at the UC Berkeley Institute of Human Development gave parents in the Abriendo Puertas program a survey of knowledge-based questions on child rearing before and after they participated in the program. The team found that there were significant gains in parents’ knowledge of all areas related to child development and growth following the program’s completion, Bridges said.

Participants in the program meet in a group setting to discuss different topics related to raising a child, including how to be their child’s first teacher, goal setting, communication and understanding the stages of child development.

Parents demonstrated significant increases in their knowledge of language and literacy development, social-emotional development, health development and school preparation, researchers found. They also exhibited noteworthy gains in understanding their rights and their children’s rights in school as well as a significant boost in self-confidence regarding their parenting skills, getting their children ready for school and advocating on behalf of their children. A brief discussing the results of the survey was published online Oct. 16.

The need for Latino children to excel in school is particularly critical, researchers emphasized in the brief, because currently, one in five American children is Latino, and by the year 2030, that number will likely grow to one in three.

Many Latino children start kindergarten six months cognitively behind their non-Latino peers, which can contribute to the creation of an achievement gap that persists throughout their academic careers, according to the brief. This gap can ultimately result in increased high school dropout rates and low college graduation rates.

Edward Condon, senior director of membership and professional development at the National Head Start Association, which Abriendo Puertas is affiliated with, said the program has a unique value for the Latino community.

“In the U.S., it’s necessary for parents to take an active role in their children’s education, but this is not the case in other countries,” Condon said. “Countries like Mexico don’t have this concept of a parent/teacher relationship, and the Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors program encourages Latino parents to think about their children’s education as their responsibility.”

Multiple studies and research on early child development and growth have led to the widely adopted understanding that the first few years of a child’s life is heavily dependent on parenting.

“This relationship is phenomenally important,” Bridges said. “What parents do for their children — even the little things — have such a huge impact.”

Pilot versions of the Abriendo Puertas program are currently being used by the Central California Migrant Head Start Program. Richard Braun, who is working to facilitate the Abriendo Puertas program with Head Start programs in the area, said participants have been enthusiastic.

“They are excited about planting the seeds for long term success of their children and what they as parents can do to help it,” Braun said in an email.

Pooja Mhatre covers research and ideas. Contact her at [email protected].