Different shades of working-class : examining Latino/a parents’ decision-making processes regarding enrollment in a parent academy

Sánchez, Joanna Dolores
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Schools continue to struggle with increasing parental engagement with families of color from low and working-class backgrounds. Research has found that by building parents’ capacity to effectively navigate school systems and advocate for their children, parents can increase their participation in school-related activities. Yet, scant research has examined the decision-making processes of working-class Latino/a parents when reconciling whether to participate or not in school-sponsored engagement programs. More research is needed to explore the reasons for parent engagement differences among Latino/a parents who belong to the same low-income SES. As such, the purpose of this study is to examine the factors that contribute to working-class Latino/a parents enrolling into a nationally recognized parent academy in a high-poverty, majority Latino/a school district located in South Texas along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Using concepts from Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler’s parental involvement model and community cultural wealth to guide the analysis, this study will examine three categories of parents in this district: parents who graduated from the academy, parents who did not graduate, and parents who chose not to enroll in the academy. Using a case study design, I interviewed 36 parents (N=36), including 12 parents from each category, as well as collected document and archival data.

This study’s findings highlight the existence of different dimensions of working-class parents. Not all Latino/a working-class parents are the same. That is, not every parent who fits this description shares the same background or experiences. In the United States, these parents might be grouped in the same category, but some of them come to the program with varying degrees of privilege, most notably in regards to education and family supports. The parents in this study with the most privilege were mainly in Group #1, parents who graduated from the program. Districts need to be aware of these privilege differences and recognize how they impact participation. It is necessary in order to avoid forming deficit assumptions of certain subgroups of parents and recognize that some parents have more constraints on their decisions than others. Therefore, districts must think about ways to address the diverse experiences and backgrounds of working-class Latino/a parents in order to avoid creating parental programs that are only engagement in name but involvement in practice.