By Richard Garza, CEO and Superintendent of Houston Gateway Academy, NCLR Affiliate
Note: Every year, the National Council of La Raza’s (NCLR) Family Strengthening Awards Program bestows honor on two NCLR Affiliates whose programs provide a holistic approach to improve the opportunities and abilities of Latino families in their communities. The winning programs demonstrate a comprehensive approach to family strengthening which incorporates all members of the family and addresses education, housing, employment, health, or advocacy issues. This year’s winners are Watts/Century Latino Organization in Los Angeles and Houston Gateway Academy. Houston Gateway shares more about their approach to strengthen families in this guest post.
As the CEO of Houston Gateway Academy, every day I see the opportunity that education gives to not only strengthen a family, but the community as a whole. The two are interrelated. Families are not single entities. What one Latino family does affects others. When one succeeds, others see the potential to succeed as well.
Houston Gateway Academy is an open enrollment charter school serving nearly 1,300 students in Houston’s south and southeast sides. We work to empower students through state-of-the-art education and by equipping them with the skills and knowledge to compete in today’s workforce. We are proud to be one of the two recipients of the NCLR Family Strengthening Awards, along with our fellow Affiliate Watts/Century Latino Organization. We are glad to dedicate ourselves to working tirelessly to serve the Latino communities in our region.
An integral part of our work is ensuring that parents are engaged in their children’s lives and education. Our parent outreach strategies are modeled after NCLR’s Padres Comprometidos Program, which encourages parents to become familiar with their child’s teacher, assigns parents homework, and educates parents on the importance of meeting with teachers and counselors to seek information related to their child’s academic performance. It is an eight-week program that trains parents who are not traditionally involved with schools to understand the U.S. public school system, develop goals for their children to ensure they attend college, understand the academic requirements for college readiness, and explore how to model behaviors at home that encourage and promote learning. Through our parent engagement efforts, we are helping contribute to the development of stronger Hispanic families.
One such family is the Hernandez family, who brought their three children, ages 7, 9, and 11, to our school in the beginning of 2011. They had heard great things about our mandatory home visits, which are conducted prior to the start of school, and biweekly progress reports, and they saw attending our school as an opportunity to get heavily involved in their children’s education.
They were right to think that. Our school has a huge focus on parental engagement. In fact, we hold two weeks of professional development for all staff to obtain information on the impact of parental involvement on student achievement. During the training, the staff also learns strategies on how to effectively engage parents.
Through their efforts and ours, the Hernandez family has seen all of their children succeed each school year, and their family communication skills have also strengthened. Since the start of their children’s enrollment in 2011, both parents have become active members of our Padres Comprometidos program. They regularly take advantage of their children’s time outside of school to read with them, check their homework, and have family discussions about various school events. Their children have also expressed excitement over how they have developed strong goals since starting at Houston Gateway Academy and how increased communication and collaboration with their parents has improved their grades and state test scores.
We are extremely proud of the progress the Hernandez family has made and continues to make as they become more involved in their children’s lives. We look forward to continuing to help them, and all the other families whose children attend our school, and playing a big role in their children’s education. Thank you again to the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) for helping us achieve our mission to support Latino families’ educational aspirations and for choosing us as one of this year’s Family Strengthening Awards recipients. We look forward to working together for many years to come.