Juntos Brings Families Together for a Better Education

November 1, 2016, 9:30 am | Kimberly Greder, Laura Sternweis

AMES, Iowa -- Graduate from high school. Go to college. It seems simple enough – and it is, for many young Iowans who enroll in universities, colleges and community colleges every year.

But it’s not easy for everyone, particularly for youth whose parents have little or no experience with higher education, have low household income, or did not go to school in the U.S. or graduate from high school themselves.

According to the Iowa Department of Education, the highest percentage of youth who did not complete high school in 2013 were Latino youth. Latino youth are at greatest risk for not completing high school between ninth and 10th grades. That’s why Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, local organizations, schools and Latino families are working together to identify strategies and opportunities to help youth do well in school and pursue higher education.

Together for a better education

Juntos LogoAcross Iowa, “Juntos Para Una Mejor Educación (Together for a Better Education),” also known simply as Juntos, is a series of research-based workshops and follow-up activities that brings Latino families who have middle school youth together to learn and support one another, said Kimberly Greder, an associate professor in human development and family studies and a family life state specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach.

After the family workshop series, youth and their parents are linked to additional opportunities to promote learning and access to higher education. School personnel commonly join some of the workshop sessions to strengthen family-school relations and share information about the school that can be useful to families. Follow-up sessions include helping parents learn how to use Power School or Infinite Campus to access student records and communicate with teachers, linking youth to 4-H youth development or other local organizations to explore careers they are interested in, develop a stronger sense of self-efficacy and leadership skills, and make new friends. During panel discussions, parents and youth learn about what college is like from Latino college students, as well as have opportunities to visit colleges and universities to gain a first-hand perspective of what college will entail.

“Juntos is taught in English and Spanish by bilingual extension educators and local volunteers in communities across the state,” Greder said.

On Nov. 12, from 9.45 a.m. to 3 p.m., Iowa State University Office of Admissions and Lambda Theta Phi Latino Fraternity will host a Latino Family Visit Day at the Memorial Union. To register or to learn more about this event, please call 800-262-3810.

Facilitator training is Nov. 17-18

ISU Extension and Outreach is sponsoring a training on Nov. 17-18 in Cedar Rapids for people who would like to become Juntos program facilitators. Those interested should register in community teams of at least two to three people, and at least one of the team members must be fluent in both Spanish and English. Local teams commonly include representatives from schools, community agencies, nonprofits, or faith-based and outreach organizations, and ISU Extension and Outreach staff.

The training is 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Nov. 17 and 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Nov. 18, at Sister Mary Lawrence Center, 420 6th Street SE, Cedar Rapids. Cost is $200 per participant and includes program materials and refreshments. For more information or to register, contact Phyllis Zalenski, ISU Extension and Outreach human sciences specialist, at zalenski@iastate.edu or 319-465-3224. The registration and payment deadline is Nov. 10.

“Juntos continues to grow across Iowa because of the passion and dedication that local community leaders and Latino families have for wanting Latino youth to be successful. ISU Extension and Outreach serves as a catalyst to bring people together around the common goal of helping youth and their families succeed, and trains local people, including extension educators, to implement the Juntos program,” Greder said.

Helping students succeed

Juntos consists of a series of family workshops and related activities.

“Each session begins with a family meal. During the program parents and youth discuss the youth’s dreams for their future, and what parents want for their youth. Together, families develop a plan to help youth reach their goals. Families practice specific strategies to strengthen communication among each other, and with school staff. Parents discuss and learn about specific things they can do at home to help their youth do well at school and prepare for college. Families learn about courses for youth to take to help prepare them for high school and college. In addition, families learn about how and when to apply to college, and ways to save for and pay for it," Greder said.

“During the last session, families celebrate with a graduation ceremony, and receive certificates honoring their efforts and commitment to help youth succeed in school, pursue higher education and their dreams,” Greder said.

So far more than 400 Latino youth and their parents have participated in Juntos. Evaluation data show that youth and their parents increased communication about what parents want for their youth and dreams youth have, and are working together as a family to help youth succeed in school and pursue higher education -- topics many of the families had not directly discussed before Juntos. Additionally, school personnel have strengthened their relations with Latino families and are taking specific steps to improve communication with families and provide supports to help youth succeed.

“We want to determine how effective Juntos is — in helping Latino youth do well in school, pursuing higher education and in strengthening parent-youth communication. In specific Iowa communities, we are following youth and their families over several years to measure these outcomes,” Greder said.


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