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Gerardo Lopez
School of Education

Last modified: Monday, February 3, 2003

Parental involvement in migrant education is at home, not at school

The traditional definition of parent involvement many times doesn't work when it comes to migrant education, according to Gerardo Lopez, an assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Education in Bloomington.

Lopez focuses in his research on migrant students and their parents, the majority of whom are Latino.

He said most educators view parent involvement as coming to school, meeting the teachers and working with them for the benefit of their child. "I challenge this view, because many migrant parents whose students are successful don't even visit the schools; their involvement is in the home. This leaves us to determine if this type of home involvement is equal to the physical presence in the school," he explained.

"We are looking at what schools are doing to involve Latino parents," he continued. "They spend a lot of time, money and energy on traditional parent involvement issues instead of building on ways Latino parents are already involved with their children."

For example, Lopez said, many migrant parents take their children to work with them in the fields so the children can learn the value and lessons of hard work and the consequences of not continuing their studies. "The students learn that hard work is necessary to provide for the family unit and that education will allow them to provide a better life for their future families," he said.

Lopez said many people think of California and Texas when it comes to large concentrations of migrant workers, but the nearby states of Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin have sizable migrant populations.

The IUB educator, who also is an affiliated faculty member in Latino Studies at IUB, said Indiana is experiencing a growth in migrant students, and it is logical for the IUB School of Education to study this matter because of its leadership in identifying educational trends. "Statistics from the 2000 census show that the Latino population in Indiana is growing exponentially, and since the vast majority of migrant students and parents are Latino, this area is getting the attention of state leaders in education and social services," Lopez said.

Jorge Chapa, professor and director of Latino Studies at IUB, said census statistics show an increase in Latinos in Indiana between 1990 and 2000 of nearly 120 percent to 214,000. Both Lopez and Chapa agreed that it is difficult to get accurate statistics on migrants because of their transient nature.

"Educators are concerned about finding ways to get parents more involved in their child's education so they can better understand their plight and build bridges of understanding," said Lopez, who came to IUB last fall from the University of Missouri. He was born and raised in the heavily Latino-populated East Los Angeles. He completed his doctoral work in educational administration at the University of Texas, where he studied issues surrounding migrant education.

Lopez said that many people confuse migrant and immigrant. "Immigrant refers to the country you are from and migrant is related to the type of work you do," he said.

He said there are signs of improvement for migrant students, with states cooperating more instead of working independently. He cited an example of an area near Peoria, Ill., that annually gets a large influx of migrants from the same area of Texas. "Leaders from the school district in Illinois now work together with the school district in Texas so they know the abilities of the incoming migrant students before they arrive," he explained.

But he warned that major problems remain for migrant students and parents in terms of social conditions. "Many of the migrant housing camps in this country are substandard in terms of housing and health care. You would be shocked by the third world conditions that migrants have to deal with in many sections of this country," he said.

For more information, contact Lopez at 812-856-8392 or