Increasing School Counselors’ Impact on the Achievements of Hispanic/Latino Students
by Carlos P. Zalaquett
According to the last census, Hispanic/Latinos are the largest and youngest minority group in the country (35.3 million, U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). Unfortunately, Hispanic/Latino youth exhibit the highest dropout rates and are less likely to graduate from High School. Their low educational achievement negatively affects their career aspirations and future employment.
Many educators believe that Hispanic/Latino students are not interested in, or capable of succeeding in college. In addition, Hispanic/Latino students, including those who are academically qualified to attend college, frequently lack strong adult guidance and are misinformed about college requirements. Despite misperceptions and barriers, some Hispanic/Latino students succeed in gaining access to a college education. They select a college, apply to financial aid, and develop a successful career path.
Successful Hispanic/Latino Students Research Project
My research on the stories of successful Hispanic/Latino students helped me gain a richer understanding of their values and the factors that helped them succeed. The Successful Hispanic/Latino Students research project, developed with Patsy Feliciano, suggests the following themes school counselors should consider when counseling students to pursue further studies and develop a career.
Students reported family support as a major factor in their individual success, disregarding the level of education attained by the family or the skills they possessed to interact with the educational system.
“What motivated me the most to move on to college were my parents …they never stopped reminding me of how crucial an education is to a stable future...”
Students view education as the key to a better future.
“… I always …wanted to make something of myself and fulfill my dreams. I knew that college was the key to a successful future.”
Responsibility Toward Others
Students perceived achieving a career as a means to honor their parents.
“Every day that I see her going to work in that factory and I realize all the sacrifices she has made so I can have a better life makes me appreciate all the opportunities I have been offered. For her and for myself I put all my efforts into my career.”
Students were proud of investing in their education.
“…if anybody [suggests you got into college] because you're a minority and poor; you can stand right up and reply that it was because you worked hard and didn't let anything come in the way of becoming smarter and in the future successful..”
Students experienced difficulties adapting to college.
“Freshman year at the university was a tough one... I found myself lost in a sea of students… My course load made me doubt that business was the right major for me.”
Students were determined to persist and prevail in the face of obstacles.
“Although I had to go through many hardships and obstacles to get to where I am today, I managed to pull through because I refused to give up.”
Students perceived the process of getting a college education as a relational one. Peers exert a critical influence.
“I was fortunate to have friends like Ana and Silvia to ease the experience… I’m certain that if we did not have each other, getting into the routine of college life would have been harder...”
Students perceived external support as a “make or break” factor for success.
“… I (was) exposed to the staff of the Farmworker Jobs of Florida. Through them I was able to leave the fields… Their support and encouragement were specks of hope to a better tomorrow.”
Students reported benefits of obtaining a scholarship. Main outcome was retention.
“… I was able to get some scholarships that are paying for my tuition… I don't know what would I do without my scholarships…”
Students reported being positively influenced by teachers who demonstrated interest, and provided advice and encouragement.
“… I was blessed to actually have some teachers that… took a genuine interest in me. They gave me advice and encouraged me...”
Helping Hispanic/Latino Students Succeed in School
School counselors can use the following suggestions to help Hispanic/Latino students with their academic and career goals:
- Meet regularly with parents to discuss their children's progress. Hispanic/Latino parents can contribute significantly to improving their children's academic performance and attitudes towards school.
- Be aware that despite their common core of values, Hispanic/Latinos are diverse and encounter different challenges and opportunities, and thus should be seen as individuals with personal academic strengths and learning styles.
- Assess students' understanding by asking questions and summarizing at the end of sessions to reinforce students' understanding.
- Collaborate with teachers to establish a mentoring system.
- Conduct small support groups addressing assertiveness, social skills, time management, study skills, decision-making, and stress management.
- Create multicultural or Latino clubs to provide opportunities for students to meet and develop friendships.
- Provide students with career counseling and assist them with college and scholarship applications.
- Invite college representatives to speak with parents in Spanish about admissions and scholarships.
- Establish connections with community counselors to address issues outside the school that affect school performance and retention.
- Advocate for the development of a culturally appropriate pedagogy that welcomes students' language, culture, and experiences into the school. Counselors, teachers, and administrators who learn about Latino culture, history, and contributions become better educators and are able to offer a more comprehensive curriculum and holistic counseling approach to all students.
Learning and understanding the themes and suggestions presented above should increase the effectiveness of school counselors and teachers genuinely interested in helping Hispanic/Latino students succeed. This is a timely goal because the rapidly changing demographics of the United States ensures that school personnel will encounter more and more diverse students. There are many benefits in helping diverse students pursue the necessary steps to achieve an education and gain access to the world of work. We need the diverse perspectives of all Americans if we are to compete in a global society. Preparing this potential pool will assure our continued ability to excel in an increasingly diverse and competitive global market.
U.S. Census Bureau. 2000. Population by race and Hispanic or Latino origin, for all ages and for 18 years and over, for the United States: 2000. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Commerce.
Dr. Carlos P. Zalaquett is the Coordinator of the Community/Mental Health Counseling Program in the University of South Florida. Dr. Zalaquett is the author of “Succeeding in the 21st Century: A Qualitative Analysis,” (http://www.coedu.usf.edu/zalaquett/21/TCA_paper.htm) andhas been a presenter on the theme “The Skills and Abilities to Succeed in the 21st Century” at several conferences, including the Southwest Association of Colleges and Employers (SWACE), Association of University and College Counseling Center Directors, and the Florida Counseling Association conferences. He also created the Help Screens (http://www.lklnd.usf.edu/Counseling_Center) and The Successful Latino Student (with Ms. Patsy Feliciano) web pages. (http://www.coedu.usf.edu/zalaquett/ls/lsss.html). Dr. Zalaquett can be reached at:email@example.com.