Learning from each other: a portrait of family-school-community partnerships in the United States and Mexico.
Article Type: Report
Subject: Academic achievement (Social aspects)
Ethnography (Methods)
Immigrants (Social aspects)
Cooperation (Economics) (Educational aspects)
Cooperation (Economics) (Demographic aspects)
Author: Dotson-Blake, Kylie P.
Pub Date: 10/01/2010
Publication: Name: Professional School Counseling Publisher: American School Counselor Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Family and marriage; Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 American School Counselor Association ISSN: 1096-2409
Issue: Date: Oct, 2010 Source Volume: 14 Source Issue: 1
Topic: Event Code: 290 Public affairs
Product: Product Code: E198450 Immigrants
Geographic: Geographic Scope: Mexico; North Carolina Geographic Code: 1MEX Mexico; 1U5NC North Carolina
Accession Number: 241277785
Full Text: Family-school-community partnerships are critically important for the academic success of all students. Unfortunately, in the face of specific barriers, Mexican immigrants struggle to engage in partnership efforts. In the hopes of promoting the engagement of Mexican immigrant families in partnerships, this article presents the findings of a transnational ethnography, exploring family-school-community partnership experiences of Mexican nationalists in Veracruz and Mexican immigrants in North Carolina. A portrait of partnerships in Mexico is contrasted with a portrait of partnerships in the United States, highlighting similarities and differences in role, structure, and function. School counselors are offered strategies for utilizing the knowledge of partnerships in Mexico to promote and support the engagement of Mexican immigrants in partnerships in the United States.


A young, Latino male entered the school counselor's office obviously upset and asked for a few minutes of the school counselor's time. He explained that he had decided to send his daughter back to Mexico to live with a family member because she was being bullied at school and although he reached out to her teacher, he could not get any help. He despondently explained, "I believe it was because I am illegal. She does not feel she has to work with me and she knows I cannot go for help anywhere else." He felt his hands were tied and that education was too important for his daughter not to take action. He and his wife felt that if they sent their daughter back to Mexico, her educational experience would be better because their family would be able to work collaboratively with the school. However, this decision was heartbreaking for him and he had come to the school counselor for help handling the psychological distress he was experiencing.

The struggle to work collaboratively with educators and the difficult decision faced by the father in the previous scenario plays out across the United States daily as Latino immigrant parents face a multitude of barriers to family-school collaboration (Cockcroft, 1995; Espinoza-Herold, 2003). In the hopes of furthering the scholarship on this topic and promoting academic discourse concerning how to reduce the barriers Latino immigrants face to partnership involvement, I present the findings of a transnational qualitative study that critically explored and compared the role, structure, and function of family-school-community partnerships in Mexico and the United States (Dotson-Blake, 2006). By elucidating similarities and differences in partnership role, structure, and function in the United States and Mexico, I hope to shed light on the immigrant experience with partnerships in the United States and provide school counselors with strategies to promote the involvement of immigrant parents and families.


The engagement of Latino immigrant families with U.S. schools has gained increasing attention in educational research as the population has grown. Currently, Latino students make up 19.5% of the K12 student population and of the 8.5 million Hispanic families in the United States; 63% include one or more children under the age of 18 (Pew Hispanic Center, 2007). At present, more than half (64%) of Latino immigrants currently living in the United States are of Mexican origin (Grieco, 2010). In recent years, many families and individuals have emigrated from small, rural towns in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, to small, rural towns in eastern North Carolina in the United States (Cortina, 2006). The experiences of these immigrants as they have sought to enter and engage with education institutions in North Carolina can shed light on the immigrant experience with the construction and implementation of family-school-community partnerships and potential barriers to participation in these partnerships. Thus, I present a study that included focus groups of parents, focus groups of educators, and individual interviews with community professionals in a small, rural community in North Carolina and a small, rural community in Veracruz. The parents included in the focus group in North Carolina had previously emigrated from the town of focus in Veracruz. As such, there existed a unique opportunity to explore differences in these individuals' experiences with family-school-community partnerships in North Carolina, as compared with the experiences of their nationalist contemporaries in Veracruz.


Students of Mexican origin form a significant portion of the K-12 student population in the United States, and as such, the academic progress of this population, like that of all diverse learners, is of critical importance (U.S. Department of Education, 2010). However, in the face of specific stressors, including acculturative stress and institutional racism, Mexican immigrant families and communities continue to struggle to help their children achieve academic success. Though Mexican immigrant families enter the United States filled with positive expectations about their children's educational opportunities (Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco, 2001), for many this hope falters as their efforts to engage with school professionals fail in the face of language barriers, differing cultural expectations, and societal barriers including institutionalized racism and limited opportunities for cross-cultural interactions (Espinoza-Herold, 2003; Trueba & Delgado-Gaitan, 1988). Consequently, though many Mexican immigrant parents strongly value the importance of education (Chrispeels & Rivero, 2001), barriers between families and schools lead to disconnected and less effective educational and academic engagement for students.

It is unfortunate that such barriers limit family-school-community partnerships between Mexican immigrant families and U.S. schools, as the literature supports the benefits of partnerships for Latino students (Diaz Salcedo, 1996; Trueba, 1998). Diaz Salcedo uncovered a number of themes that are connected with Latino students' success in school, including relating to family, communication, and the importance of connecting with the culture and ethnicity. Trueba further supported the need to include Mexican immigrant families in family-school-community partnerships, asserting that for student academic success it is imperative that schools invite and facilitate collaboration with families.

Though the professional literature strongly supports the need for effective partnerships between Mexican immigrant families and U.S. schools, most research has explored partnerships solely through the lens of educators, with limited investigation into the cultural capital and resources brought to the United States by Mexican immigrant families (Carreon, Drake, & Barton, 2005). Research that explores family-school-community partnerships in Mexico and the United States that involves parents, educators, and community members allows for an intensive examination of the impact of cultural expectations on partnership engagement and may provide insight into ways U.S. schools might establish culturally inclusive and inviting partnerships for Mexican immigrant families. Exploring partnerships on both sides of the border may open the door to an opportunity to learn from each other.


The purpose of this study was to examine participants' behaviors, expectations, and ways of engagement concerning family-school-community partnerships in the hopes of discerning culturally inclusive ways of structuring partnerships. Participants were drawn from rural communities in Veracruz, Mexico, and North Carolina to allow for a comparison of the experiences of Mexican nationalist families with the experiences of Mexican immigrant families in the United States.

The study was guided by the following research questions:

1. What are the experiences of Mexican nationalist parents and Mexican immigrant parents with family-school-community partnerships?

2. How do participants in family-school-community partnerships with Mexican nationalist and Mexican immigrant parents perceive their individual roles and the roles of others in the partnerships?

3. How are the experiences and responses reflective of societal practices?


Research Design

Utilizing critical ethnography as the qualitative inquiry method for this research allowed for an in-depth examination of behaviors, ways of engaging in partnerships, and the culturally laden expectations of partnerships in each community (Creswell, 1998). Education ethnographies examine how people enter an educational community, learn the community's culture, and develop appropriate patterns of response to community expectations (Wolcott, 1975). Educational ethnography is an appropriate fit for this study that explored the engagement of immigrant families in an educational community and the impact of culture on engagement. Thomas (1993) clarified that the central separating factor between conventional ethnography and critical ethnography is one of voice. He said that in conventional ethnography researchers attempt to speak for their participants, while critical ethnographers accept the responsibility of speaking on behalf of participants in an effort to empower participants by supporting their voice. I use critical ethnography with the hopes of supporting the engagement of Mexican immigrant families in family-school-community partnerships in the United States by giving voice to the experiences of some of their contemporaries.

To explore the role, structure, and functions of family-school-community partnerships in the United States and Mexico comprehensively, I drew information from four sources: (a) the data gathered from interviews and focus groups comprising the research process itself, (b) an independent audit, (c) material culture, and (d) the personal and professional experience of the researcher. A qualitative researcher in the field of counseling who was not directly involved with this research conducted an independent audit of the research data and process to ensure that the procedures used were dependable and the findings confirmable (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Material culture in qualitative research includes written texts and artifacts that lend insight into the functioning of a community and enhance understanding of the phenomena under study (Rossman & Rallis, 2003). In this research, material culture examined included programs produced to accompany school presentations and events, community-school collaboration documents, and teacher-parent communication documents. The researcher's personal experience was important from a qualitative standpoint in that the researcher indelibly impacts the data through her meaning-making of the material throughout the study (Rossman & Rallis).


Focus groups provided an opportunity to observe participants in their process of coming together, a method consistent with the research strategy of critical ethnography, which posits that by collectively exploring experiences, individuals are empowered to engage as a group to effect social change (Delgado-Gaitan, 2001). The snowball or chain version of purposeful sampling was used to identify the initial participants, which enabled the researcher to identify information-rich cases for inclusion in the study. Snowball or chain sampling begins by locating key informants and having these informants refer the researcher to additional informants (Patton, 2002). This approach is particularly appropriate for research conducted with Mexican immigrants, as this population relies heavily on networks of community to transfer information and cultural traditions (Espinoza-Herold, 2003). For this research, the first link in the chain was the young father, Bertho, whose story was shared in the opening of this article. Upon his visit to the school counselor, he was connected with the researcher and, working together, the researcher learned that many people from Bertho's community of origin, a small community in Veracruz, had immigrated to the rural community in North Carolina and had children attending the local school.

The Communities of Focus

The community to which Bertho had immigrated in North Carolina is a small, rural community in the eastern part of the state, located in what is termed the "inner banks" region of the state between two large sounds, the Albemarle and the Pamlico. The primary forms of employment in the area, industrial mills and farming and fishing, revolve around the rich and fertile water, soils, and opportunities fostered by these sounds and their networks of rivers and creeks. The town has 502 residents and two local community schools, one K-6 and one 7-12. Bertho helped the researcher identify a multitude of other parents who have immigrated to the North Carolina community from his hometown in Veracruz. The parents in the focus group of immigrants to the North Carolina community each helped to identify parents still living in the community in Veracruz to participate in the research.

The parents who live in Veracruz reside in a small community lying between two rivers. Though it lies fairly close to the port of Veracruz, primary employment for citizens is found in the agricultural industry in the areas of sugar cane, citrus, and livestock. The community has three local schools, a kindergarten, a primary school, and a tele-secondary school. (A tele-secondary school is sometimes used in rural communities in Mexico to provide continued education to high school-aged children through the use of technology; these schools are hubs that offer learning through participation in tele-education classes.) The town has 1,390 citizens and has recently received government support to improve the primarily dirt roads connecting the town to the major highway artery leading to the port of Veracruz. Many of the parents identified to participate in the parent focus group in Veracruz were extended family members of the parents participating in the focus group in North Carolina.

In accordance with Patton's (2002) suggestion that focus groups consist of five to eight people with similar experiences and backgrounds, five parents were initially identified to participate in each focus group. Unfortunately, one of the parents in the North Carolina focus group decided not to continue with participation because of increased work-related demands. Consequently, four parents were included in the North Carolina focus group: Bertho, Amata, Calida, and Francisco. The parents in North Carolina had all emigrated from the town in Veracruz to North Carolina in the past 5 years and all had children in the same elementary school in North Carolina. Five parents were included in the parent focus group in Veracruz: Caton, Oscar, Elisa, Isabel, and Mira. The parents in the Veracruz focus group had lived in the community in Veracruz their entire lives and had children in the local kindergarten and primary schools.

Focus groups of educators were established in both communities as well. In the educators' focus group in Veracruz, there were four women: a fifth-grade language arts teacher, a fifth-grade math teacher, a third-grade teacher, and a school counselor. The Mexico educator focus group included a third-grade teacher, a fourth-grade teacher, a fifth-grade male teacher, a fifth-grade female teacher, and the administrator of the local elementary school. Orientadores, the Mexico professionals comparable to school counselors, are not provided by the government for elementary and tele-secondary schools in some rural communities in Veracruz, including the one that was chosen for this study. The Mexico educators explained that as a result, all school professionals in small communities must assume the duties and responsibilities of an orientadore, including attending to the psychological and emotional needs of children.

Finally, to fully capture the essence of the culture of family-school-community partnerships in the communities of focus, a community service professional who was actively engaged in assisting the families and facilitating their access to community and school-based resources was identified to participate in the research. This individual was interviewed three times. The community service professional in North Carolina, Helena, had been engaged with the parents participating in the focus group for 6 years. The community service professional in Mexico, Liana, had been actively engaged with families in her community, including one of the families from the parent focus group for 4 years.

Data Collection

The researcher lived with a family in the community in Veracruz for 2 months to conduct the Mexico-based component of the study. The first 2 weeks were primarily used to make connections and build relationships with individuals in the community to help the researcher better understand the data being collected and to help the community gain trust in the researcher's intentions and research. The researcher identified an individual fluent in Spanish and English who lived in a neighboring town in Veracruz to serve as the translator for the focus groups, and two individuals, one Spanish-speaking and one English-speaking, observed each focus group and individual interview to provide field notes about material and information that the researcher may have missed while the interview was being conducted. These individuals additionally reviewed transcripts from each interview to check for accuracy to ensure the trustworthiness of the data.

Three rounds of focus groups, for a total of six focus group sessions (i.e., three in Veracruz and three in North Carolina), were conducted with individual member-checking of interviews conducted between focus group sessions. Each focus group lasted approximately 90 minutes. Following the initial focus group session in both Veracruz and North Carolina, the members of the focus groups were asked to select an individual from their group to participate in individual member-check interviews to check for accuracy and trustworthiness of data following the focus group sessions.

In both the North Carolina and Veracruz, focus groups were conducted in the home of one of the participants or in a community building that all participants utilized, to ensure that participants were comfortable and relaxed. The researcher was struck by the warmth and strong connections between members of the parent focus groups in both North Carolina and Veracruz. The parents appeared to enjoy each other's company and to have deep empathy for the experiences of the other parents participating in the groups. The focus groups conducted with educators in North Carolina and Veracruz also illuminated the warmth and collegiality between participants. The researcher was able to join and build rapport with each focus group easily, due in large part to the assertion by members of each focus group that the topic was important to their community.

Interview guide and development. An interview guide (sample questions included in Appendix A) was utilized to keep the interaction focused while allowing individual perspectives, voices, and experiences to emerge. The questions were developed through the utilization of the professional literature and by drawing on my practical experience as a school counselor. I identified initial aspects of family-school-community partnerships to explore from a prior review of the literature. From these components, questions were developed that focused on capturing the participants' personal perceptions of partnership roles, structures, and functions. The interview guides were reviewed, amended, and modified and then reviewed again by three counselor education professionals with expertise in the field of counseling, qualitative research, and the involvement of Mexican immigrant families in education.

Translation and transcription. The focus groups and interviews were each transcribed by an individual fluent in Spanish. I worked closely with this individual to ensure that the integrity of the data was maintained throughout the process. Following the initial transcription, the transcriber and I reviewed each transcript and tape to discern any data elements that may have been overlooked. Following this transcription, an individual fluent in both Spanish and English translated the data. I remained active throughout the process of transcription and translation as well. The translator and I combed the data to uncover and identify any data components for which the meaning may have become unclear in the process of translation. Both transcriber and translator signed a confidentiality agreement and used the pseudonyms for each of the participants to ensure participant anonymity.

Data Analysis Process

The transcribed interviews created copious amounts of text, from which was selected useful and interesting information that best contributed to the focus of the study (Wolcott, 1994). The data were analyzed inductively, without the assistance of specifically prescribed hypotheses and with an openness and genuine desire to understand the topic through the voices and experiences of the participants. Inductive analysis involves a continual and consistent interaction between the researcher and the data (Johnson & Christensen, 2000). This constant interaction allowed for the emergence of themes through the parallel analysis of transcripts from focus group and individual interviews, field notes, and material culture.

Miles and Huberman (1994) advocated for a three-part data analysis process consisting of data reduction, data display, and conclusion drawing/ verification. Creswell (1998) outlined a multilevel process in which data analysis and themes occur and are presented in stages, progressively moving through the combination of singular themes into larger themes and perspectives. These two approaches were utilized concurrently in this ethnographic exploration of partnerships. The data reduction aspect of Miles and Huberman's approach took the form of transcription, translation, and coding. Coding utilized a categorical approach using indigenous codes that are derived by selecting participants' words or phrases, from the transcript text that best characterize the theme of segments of data (Rossman & Rallis, 2003). Following this coding, the data analysis moved into the connection of singular themes into larger, overarching themes and perspectives. The final stage of verification was the testing of themes for confirmability through cross-case analysis of data and codes. Following this analysis, findings were examined for linkages to the professional literature, situating this study firmly in the professional discourse concerning partnerships with Mexican immigrant families.

Verification of Trustworthiness and Credibility

Creswell's (1998) procedures for verifying a study's trustworthiness and the credibility of data were used to support the trustworthiness and credibility of this study.

Prolonged engagement and persistent observation. This component included building rapport and trust with participants, developing understanding of culture, and clarifying information to avoid distortions due to misinformation between researcher and participants. The researcher lived in the community in Veracruz for 2 months, engaged with participants, and attempted to understand culture and its role in the information shared by participants. Prolonged engagement with the North Carolina community was lengthier as the researcher had lived in the community for more than 20 years and had a relationship with the Mexican immigrant community in North Carolina that spanned 5 years.

Triangulation. The researcher used multiple and diverse methods, sources, theories, and investigators to corroborate evidence and findings, including material culture and interviews. Drawing similar information from different sources provided critical insight into discrepancies and provided an opportunity to clarify information using different viewpoints.

Peer review and external audit. This process was conducted through an external check of the research process by a qualitative researcher in the field with no connection to the study who served as the external auditor. External reviewers also were utilized to review interview guides.

Member checks. There were three levels of member checks to ensure credibility over the course of this research. The first member check occurred during the focus groups and interviews, with the researcher providing an oral summary of the information covered during the session and asking participants to clarify any misunderstandings or to provide additional information they felt should be included. In the second member check, a representative from the focus group was presented with an oral summary of the previous interview and was asked again to correct anything it appeared that the researcher had misunderstood. The final grand member check (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) occurred during the process of writing the report and entailed discussing with participants information presented in the report and, again, having the participants clarify any misunderstandings.


In exploring the research questions, the experiences of Mexican nationalist and immigrant parents and the professionals who partner with them emerged as multifaceted with three central components: defining partnerships, role of participants, and function of partnerships. These three elements together formed the comparative portrait of the experience of Mexican nationalist and Mexican immigrant parents with family-school-community partnerships.

Experiences of Parents in Partnerships: Defining Partnerships

The first research question explored in this study was "What are the experiences of Mexican nationalist parents and Mexican immigrant parents with family-school-community partnerships?" During data analysis, it became increasingly apparent that participants had particular ways of defining and describing partnerships, indicative of their experiences. With U.S. participants, this emerged as the theme "Allies in the Education of Children: Defining Partnerships." This theme highlighted the perceptions of family-school-community partnerships as a "connecting together" (North Carolina third-grade teacher) of family, school, and community with the intent to interact as "allies in the education of the children" (North Carolina fourth-grade math teacher).

On the foundational level, partnerships were defined as "the family, the school and the community working together to help the children" (North Carolina third-grade teacher). The parents in the U.S. focus group also explained that partnerships were focused on "helping the children do better at school" (Calida, mother). All of the U.S. participants spoke solely about partnerships in terms of the benefit of partnerships for education, not extending discussion of those benefits to the community or society. Additionally, definitions of partnership were asserted more specifically by educators than parents, indicating that the school takes the lead in defining the purpose of the partnership. Parents in the U.S. focus group appeared to be contributors to the partnership, rather than leaders, explaining that "they call us when there is a problem with our kids" (Amata, mother) and "they send notes home if they need us to send something for a party, like a drink or chips" (Calida, mother).

The North Carolina community professional, Helena, shared that the parents are invited to the school for conferences, but they do not get an opportunity to provide much feedback to the teachers, only to get instructions about how to improve their efforts to help their children with schoolwork. Consequently, the focus of partnerships for the U.S. participants was school-centered involvement. Though all participants in the United States stressed the importance of everyone "working together equally" (Bertho, father) in efforts to benefit the education of the children, it became apparent that the school was the leader in partnership development and that parents did not perceive themselves as involved in defining the partnership's purpose.

Participants in Mexico initially defined partnerships as the coming together of the community, the family, and the school, as shared in the theme "Every Person in the Community Must Help: The Structure of Partnerships." Caton (a father in the community in Veracruz) explained that every community member, whether or not that individual had children, was responsible for helping the community's success and that meant helping the children and the school be successful through partnerships. However, within this theme it became clear that the importance of partnerships was not to be confined solely to an educational focus and that instead partnerships were intricately woven throughout all aspects of the participants' lives. Oscar, a father in Veracruz, explained this most succinctly: "The capacity of the school and the development within the community of the families of the society and the institutions depend on associations. That is it more or less." Furthermore, another parent in the Mexican nationalists focus group asserted, "The problems that the school has are shown in the community, and the community must help the children to help itself, the community!"

Participants in both focus groups in Mexico, the educators and the parents, articulated a broad array of purposes for partnerships in their community. Isabel, a mother in Veracruz, shared that it was important for the families, community, and school to work together to help the children succeed academically, stating "we must work together so our children will have a better education." Support came swiftly from Canton, a father: "The school is the institution to sustain the education and the family is the primary education formation." Elisa, a mother, sought to clarify the interplay more completely: "I define the school as an institution to improve the education, the family as a beginning of the education, and the community as an element where the communication and education develops." The parents reached agreement on this point, with Oscar closing the discussion: "It is like the school and the home teach the theory and the community is where it is put into practice, so we must work together in partnership."

Partnerships in Mexico also served the purpose of passing on cultural traditions, as observed at a cultural celebration held in the school where the children shared traditional dances and rituals, taught to the children by community members. All of the town commissioners and many community members were present for this cultural celebration. Oscar, a member of the parent focus group and an attendee at the celebration, shared,

Partnerships in Mexico also provided access to resources for health and education for children and families such as with the community service provider's program that focused on health education and increasing access to health resources. Liana, the community service professional in Veracruz, explained that for families to enroll in the program and receive services, their children must have good attendance at school and connections between the community service professional, the family and the teacher must be maintained. The educators in Mexico agreed that an important purpose of partnerships is to maintain the health and wellness of families. The administrator of the school in Veracruz shared,

Partnerships in the Veracruz community were established with a broad array of purposes, including to help children with academic work in the form of tutoring, to pass on cultural traditions, and to prepare children to serve as community leaders through civic training. Participants in Mexico shared that partnerships were fluid and defined by the needs of the community. The children were the center of the partnership, but the purpose was to prepare the children to be strong citizens for the community.

The contrasting relationship between the insular focus on the school in partnerships in the United States and the collective focus on the community in partnerships in Mexico is best understood though the construct of context in culture. Espinoza-Herold (2003) explained that the context within which Mexican immigrant families function prior to immigrating includes a strong cultural value of collectivism and intrafamilial harmony and that schools in the United States promote the values of independence and autonomy. The strong emphasis on individualism and competition contributes to the devaluing of principles important to a collectivist culture, including cohesiveness and collaboration (Giroux, 1992). This insular focus on the school, rather than a collective focus on the community, shapes the Mexican immigrant parent's experience with partnerships in the United States. Parents shared that they are unclear about what is expected in terms of their involvement when they attend school events and feel anxious and embarrassed about not knowing how to participate: "If there is an event, we usually don't show up. We don't go because we are afraid that they are not going to understand us or afraid that they would put us aside" (Amata, mother). This disequilibrium led to the immigrant parents' frustration and confusion about how to be involved, as evident in the next component of the experience, which explored the role of parents and other participants.

Role of Participants

The second research question guiding this study was, "How do participants in family-school-community partnerships with Mexican nationalist and Mexican immigrant parents perceive their individual roles and the roles of others in the partnerships?" Through analysis of the data, it emerged that participants felt that their prior experiences with partnerships lead to their perceptions of the roles of partnership participants. The Mexican immigrant parents in the United States shared their desire to be involved while also sharing their uncertainty of how this involvement should be structured and anxiety about barriers they might encounter. Amata, a mother, explained that Mexican immigrant parents are often uncertain how their involvement is needed or what they should do to engage with the school, stating that "they only send written information home in English, so I have to ask my child to read it and if he can't I am unsure what to do!"

Calida shared that compounding her anxiety about her role in partnerships was the language barrier and the school's lack of interpreters to facilitate discussions between and among parents and teachers: "It is the same, because in school dances and events in which the parents participate, I can't because I cannot express myself because I cannot speak good English." Calida further asserted, "I think that the school works fine. But is hard when we, the Hispanics, have to talk and we need more help. For example, if in a meeting they speak for one hour, we only understand 30 minutes, and then we put them [the information] in practice here at home." Helena, the community professional, echoed Calida's frustration: "I saw other Hispanic children that my heart would hurt for, because the parents weren't there, and I knew a lot of that was because they didn't understand. So why go to something you don't understand?"

Delgado-Gaitan (2004) explained that often immigrant families for whom English serves as their second language suffer acute isolation from the educational experiences of their children due to a lack of knowledge about expectations and operations of the school. The third-grade teacher from the North Carolina educators' focus group echoed Delgado--Gaitain's assertion, sharing that

Amata's fears about volunteering at school and being given misinformation by children reflected Delgado-Gaitan's assertion:

This anxiety is best understood through an examination of the process that occurs as Mexican immigrant parents engage in partnerships in the United States.

Mexican immigrant parents enter the U.S. community, bringing certain expectations of partnerships--expectations they have developed through their previous experiences with partnerships in Mexico. Upon encountering partnerships that are structured much differently and racism and marginalization in interactions with school professionals, these parents begin to feel disconnected from their children's education (Delgado-Gaitan, 2004). The U.S. community professional, Helena, described the efforts of Mexican immigrant parents to be involved and the institutional barriers, including a lack of interpreters, that ultimately created the sense of anxiety for parents:

Parents are left "desperately" wanting to be involved and unaware of how to initiate that involvement. From their marginalized position in society, this initiation proves even more difficult.

The problems the children experience academically and behaviorally at school are often ascribed to the lack of involvement by the parents, as shared by Calida, who explained that her child's teacher accused her of not helping her child with his homework and not providing consequences for his behavior at school. This placing of the blame upon the parents and the home, asserted Nunez (1999), is a function of the racist ideology that persists as a result of embedded racism. Calida's experience with her son's previous teacher illuminates this process:

Helena, the community professional, explained that one teacher working with Latino families directly placed the responsibility for maintaining a home-school connection on the parents:

Presently, as the responsibility continues to remain with the parents, one way of overcoming the barrier is through the use of community liaisons and resources, as illustrated through an example shared by Amata, a mother:

In the United States, it was clear that parents and educators were on two different sides of the fence, with the community professional serving as a bridge facilitating interactions between the two. Unfortunately, while this bridge creates the link necessary for the two groups to work together at particular times, it cannot completely draw the two groups together and parents are still marginalized within the community and isolated from the education of their children.

The role of parents was portrayed much differently in Mexico, signified by the theme "My Family Will Work: The Role of Parents." The families in Mexico were actively involved on many levels in their children's education. Participants explained that "it's very important because it is about responsibility and service, members of the family will carry out the work of the partnership" (fifth-grade male teacher in Mexico). The belief that all participants, family members, school professionals, and community members, must participate equally and actively in partnerships was pervasive across participants in Mexico. This participation occurred through fundraising, providing services, and sharing cultural traditions with children. The partnership physically carried out these activities in the community, in the homes of families, and in the school.

One example of a partnership experience was when family members worked with the educators to develop culture fairs that taught children traditional dances and crafts and culminated in a community-wide celebration showcasing the students' newly developed talents for community leaders and citizens. Another partnership example portraying the active role of parents is the "scholar plot." To provide funding for the school, the community maintained a scholar plot, which is a farm managed by a volunteer community member. The profits from this farm, after the payment of a minimal commission to the volunteer manager, go to the school to cover many of the costs associated with educating the children. Congruently, a major educational focus for the school was citizenship and preparing students to serve as town leaders and active citizens in the future. There was a high level of cohesion and interconnectedness between members of the partnership.

Through the descriptions of parents, educators, and the community professional in Mexico, a portrait of unity and connection emerged. According to Valdes (1996), this portrait is congruent with the strong networks of cultural support necessary for upward mobility within Mexican society. Success depends on networks of connection (Valdes) and as such, these connections are interwoven into the fabric of society, with all members of a community being viewed as necessary and valuable to partnership efforts. Cohesion and collaboration are central components of Mexican culture manifesting as strong commitment to family and community (Espinoza-Herold, 2003). Participants in Mexico reflected this commitment in their explanation that all families and other community members must be actively involved in family-school-community partnerships; Mira, a mother, stated that "always the institutions and the families work together. Everybody! Always!"

Function of Partnerships: Reflections of Society

The final research question structuring the inquiry asked, "How are the experiences and responses reflective of societal practices?" The function of partnerships is indelibly intertwined with societal practices. In the United States, Mexican immigrant parents wanted to be involved in the education of their children but felt that institutional barriers existed to prevent their involvement, including a lack of resources and materials in both English and Spanish. U.S. educators expressed their perceptions that Mexican immigrant parents were not able to partner well with the school due to the language barrier and a lack of awareness. While stressing the need for parents to engage in family-school-community partnerships, the fifth-grade math teacher sighed, "But I just don't know if they even know how to pursue that." To which the third-grade teacher responded, "That's what I'm saying. I don't think they do.... I don't think they are aware of their options." In another focus group session, the fifth-grade math teacher returned to this discussion, stating, "If they don't already have the interaction, it may not be something they feel involved in, just not having that interaction already can keep them from getting in there and doing it."

The importance of awareness arose in the community professional interviews, too, with the community professional stressing that parents cannot be involved if they are not even aware of an opportunity to be involved:

Awareness played a different role in the discussion of the parents. Parents focused on their lack of awareness as a function of the social isolation they experience. Caton, a father, compared the way information is shared in his hometown in Mexico with his experience in North Carolina:

Unfortunately, educators focused on language as a barrier that served to impede the positive involvement of parents in partnerships. Embedded racism (Nunez, 1999) served to devalue the cultural contributions of Mexican immigrant families, including familismo and simpatia. Through educators' devaluing of parents' contributions and focusing on the barriers created by language, Mexican immigrant parents were effectively barred from active participation in partnerships.

Partnerships were discussed among North Carolina participants solely as a means to provide a better educational experience for the children. Thus, the role of parents was defined by the school, which served as the planner and determinant of all partnership efforts. In Mexico, partnerships were viewed as a necessary component of strengthening the community. As such, all participants were involved equally and parents were valued as active leaders and members, with parents making many of the decisions about partnership purpose, activities, and process. Though initially participants in both North Carolina and Veracruz focused on the importance of partnerships helping children, participants from Veracruz broadened this focus. Oscar stated that "everything has an origin and a beginning, which is a kid, then, the teachers and parents. The problems that the school has are shown in the community." Participants in Veracruz linked the development of the children with the success of the community. They explained that it is everyone's responsibility to ensure that children develop into productive citizens for the community to continue to grow and prosper.

A fourth-grade teacher eloquently elucidated the connection between partnerships and citizenship: "I think that the family is the base of the society, and it should form principles [in the children] that have to be supported by the school and integrated into the community and to reach the good goal of developing good citizens for our society." The parents in Veracruz supported this connection; Isabel stated, "The school is where the children develop for the community, is it not?" The parents stressed that through partnerships, children learn how to coexist and function as productive citizens within society. Caton also highlighted the benefit this holds for the community: "It produces a lot of help for families and the community because the children are good for the community. When the people work together, they are helping the children develop into people who can help our community in the future." Additionally, in every instance that the researcher expressed gratitude to community members for their participation, she was told that people were happy to help because children are the future of the community.

Participants in the United States were expected to be involved through the school. Partnership endeavors were physically carried out in the school or were designed by the school and carried out in the community. This was quite different in Mexico, where partnership endeavors were organized by parents, educators, and community members and were conducted in the school, in family homes, and in the community. Through the analysis it became clear that partnerships in Mexico were developed with an intentional focus on promoting good citizenship qualifies in children to ensure the continued success of the community.


Through a synthesis of the data, a cohesive portrait of the necessity of total involvement by all stakeholders for successful partnerships emerged. At the same time, striking nuances of difference in perceptions of the structure and function of partnerships in North Carolina and in Veracruz also were apparent. In Mexican culture, interdependence, cooperation, cohesiveness, and affiliation (Santiago-Rivera, 2003) are highly valued. These values manifest in a strong commitment to one's community and in a rich, shared cultural foundation and were reflected in the participants' descriptions of the purpose, role and function of partnerships in Veracruz. In the United States, schools promote the values of independence and autonomy (Espinoza-Herold, 2003). Education is viewed as being of central importance, and schools are established as institutions separate and unique from the larger community. Highlighting this relationship, one of the North Carolina teachers clarified the purpose of partnerships as being to impact positively the education of the students, with school-focused efforts: "When parents can understand what the teacher is doing and seeking to accomplish, then they can complement, enrich, and extend school-based learning" (fifth-grade math teacher).

Cultural values of individualism and autonomy define and drive expectations and manifestation of the structure and function of family-school-community partnerships in the United States. Unfortunately, these differences in the purposes of partnerships, roles of participants, and function of partnerships inhibit the participation of Mexican immigrant parents. In an effort to use this critical analysis to empower Mexican immigrant parents in North Carolina and promote the development of culturally inclusive partnerships, I conclude this article with suggestions for practice that have emerged from the data.

Making Our Way: Using These Data to Build Culturally Inclusive Partnerships

To encourage the participation of Mexican immigrant families, school counselors must begin to revision expectations of the role, structure, and functions of family-school-partnerships in the United States and there is much we can learn by studying the portrait of partnerships portraying our southern neighbors' experiences. Three central steps emerged from the transnational ethnography presented here that can serve as a roadmap for revisioning current partnerships to invite the participation of Mexican immigrants. From this research, it became apparent that schools primarily serve as leaders and facilitators of partnership efforts in U.S. schools. Consequently, school counselors can collaborate with school staff to implement the following steps:

1. Encourage parents to serve as active leaders in defining and shaping partnership activities.

2. Develop partnerships with the conscious awareness that nontraditional methods of engagement can increase community and family investment in the school and improve the academic achievement of students.

3. Intentionally plan partnership activities that meet identified community needs with infused curricula and academic focus.

Step 1: Parents as leaders. U.S. participants conceptualized partnerships in the United States as schools extending invitations to parents to participate in events to learn how to teach their children and promote good academic habits. Among the participants in Veracruz, parents were more active and engaged in defining the purpose and function of partnerships. Consequently, in revisioning partnerships to be more culturally inclusive, the first step for school counselors is to encourage parents to serve as active leaders to define and shape partnership activities. One way school counselors might go about this is to develop a partnership committee consisting of community leaders and parents (Christenson & Sheridan, 2001; Epstein, 1995). Epstein et al. (2009) referred to these as action teams and provide expanded information about the essential elements for organizing these teams. Bryan (2005) asserted that an appropriate partnership role for school counselors is to lead the development and facilitation of such partnership teams. School counselors should choose individuals who are representative of the diversity present within the school and community.

Additionally, the school counselor must be cognizant of work schedules and community responsibilities and arrange for the partnership committee to meet in a place easily accessible to the participants and at a time that allows busy parents to be involved. An efficient way to establish and begin the work of this committee is to identify a community leader who can also serve as a cultural broker for the school counselor and faculty (Delgado-Gaitan, 2001; Mitchell & Bryan, 2007). This individual can, in turn, identify community members and parents who would be strong members of the partnership committee and identify meeting times that would allow all the members to participate. Then the school counselor can lead the committee to define the purpose of the partnership and commence the next step in the roadmap, developing activities to increase community and family investment in the partnership.

Step 2: Nontraditional engagement for increased investment. To increase the investment of Latino immigrant families and community members, school counselors should seek to develop nontraditional engagement practices. Nontraditional engagement practices might include parent-led culture fairs or workshops for students, community improvement initiatives that take place within the school, oral history storytelling events led by community members at the school, or a host of other events that allow parents and community members to engage with faculty and students in a more neutral environment. Consultations between parents and school counselors typically situate school personnel in positions of power. This power differential can be intimidating for parents who are less educated, face language barriers, or previously have had personal academic struggles (Epstein et al., 2009).

Nontraditional engagement events can serve to establish a neutral ground for collaboration efforts. One of the barriers to collaboration with their children's schools that Latino immigrant parents face is a lack of understanding of how to navigate school culture and practices (Lucas, 2000). When school counselors initiate nontraditional engagement practices such as the ones described above, they encourage Latino immigrant parents to enter the school and engage with school professionals under less stressful circumstances. Through this engagement, parents will become more familiar with school culture and will be better prepared to collaborate with teachers and support the educational development of their children. As parents feel more comfortable engaging with the school and become more invested in the school, they will be better prepared to support their children's academic efforts, and increased parental support and involvement can lead to improved academic outcomes.

Step 3: Partnerships to meet community needs. Finally, to revision family-school-community partnerships in the United States be culturally inclusive and inviting to Mexican immigrant families, school counselors should explore ways to structure partnerships to meet community needs as well. One way of doing this is for the school counselor to work with the partnership committee to identify needs of their community and then to develop partnership activities that will (a) recognize the impact of education on the success of the community, (b) utilize partnership activities to transmit community cultural traditions necessary for the community's success to children, and (c) infuse curricula into partnership activities. Within any partnership effort, no matter the focus or the place within which the partnership is conducted, the school counselor can infuse curriculum elements to promote the academic success of the children. By integrating curricula and community needs, the students would have opportunities to develop a sense of civic investment and responsibility and strengthen learning outcomes.

To initiate this process, it is critical that the school counselor and partnership committee identify community cultural traditions that are important to the success and history of the community. Also, by inviting parents and community members to play central roles in this intentional transmission of culture, the school counselor would empower these adults while helping the children identify role models within their community. These events should not require certain levels of literacy for parent and community participants in order to encourage broader community participation and it may be helpful to conduct these events out in the community in a more neutral environment, encouraging increased participation by families (Mitchell & Bryan, 2007). These events would give families, community members, and school counselors and personnel an opportunity to interact together and become more comfortable with each other. Most importantly, these events should intentionally be structured to meet civic needs for the community while supporting the students' academic success.

By developing events that meet community needs with an infused curriculum focus, school counselors will be able to engage immigrant parents in a more familiar partnership structure, under less stressful conditions, and simultaneously support community development efforts and improved academic outcomes for students (Mitchell & Bryan, 2007). Not only will this invite the participation of Mexican immigrant families, it will also open family-school-community partnerships to other disenfranchised populations in the community, populations for whom schools may be perceived as intimidating or possibly even adversarial entities, depending on personal experiences with education. Strengthened partnerships will ultimately lead to improved academic outcomes for students and success for the school and community.

Limitations of the Study

This study was conducted in an effort to explore the similarities and differences between family-school-community partnerships in Veracruz, Mexico, and North Carolina. The intent of the research was to encourage the empowerment of Mexican immigrant families involved in such partnerships by developing a collective consciousness through the creation of a space for the families to share their stories. The research was conducted in two small, rural towns--one in North Carolina and one in Veracruz. The participants were all drawn from the two communities. The intersection of the many diverse identities of each participant renders each a unique, multifaceted being. Thus, there is no intention on the part of the researcher to suggest that the results of this study should in any way be generalizable to any other sample. Each reader must reflect on the appropriateness of all information shared in this study and determine to what extent, if any, the information can be generalized or applied to other communities.


Readers might feel that immigrant parents need to "get on board" or that schools do not need to change their ways of structuring partnerships for immigrant families, but instead that immigrant families need to learn how "we" do partnerships here. However, our community demographics are shifting and in the end, communities, families, and individuals will be stronger if we work together. Ultimately, we can learn from our neighbors' assertion--"the community must help the children to help itself" (Oscar). We must work together to learn how to develop and implement culturally inclusive family-school-community partnerships to meet the needs of the children.

Exploring the similarities and differences between partnerships in the United States and Mexico revealed that the roles, structures, and functions of partnerships differed notably, but also that full and active involvement by all members of the partnership is essential to the success of efforts, no matter the differences. To encourage full, active involvement by Latino immigrants, school counselors can use the findings of this study to revision partnerships in the United States to make them more inviting to Mexican immigrant families. Most powerfully, by involving parents and community members in defining and planning the purpose of partnerships, school counselors can open the door to cultural inclusiveness and stronger family-school-community partnerships.


Interview Guides for the Focus Groups: Guide for First Focus Group

A. Begin interview by obtaining demographic information from each participant:

1. Name

2. Age

3. Marital status

4. Number of children

a. Age of children

5. Information concerning immigrant status (as appropriate)

a. Currently living in the United States

b. Have lived in the United States

c. Have had interactions with public schools in the United States

d. Have family members currently living in the United States


--Do these family members have children in school in the United States?

e. Plan to live in the United States at some point

B. Questions:

1. How do you define and describe family-school-community partnerships?

2. To what extent, if any, do family-school-community partnerships impact your child's education?

3. How would you describe the role of parents, community professionals, school counselors, or orientadores in family-school-community partnerships?

4. How are family-school-community partnerships structured in your community?

5. What, if anything, do family-school-community partnerships contribute to your community?

6. How could these partnerships be improved?

7. Have there been changes in your community, family, or school as a result of these partnerships?

8. How, if at all, is your involvement in your child's educational experience impacted by your involvement in family-school-community partnerships?

9. What are your personal hopes or expectations for your involvement in family-school-community partnerships?


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Kylie P. Dotson-Blake, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Counselor and Adult Education Department, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC. E-mail: blakek@ecu.edu
This is how our children learn to be citizens of
   our community. It is how we pass on our history
   so our future can have a strong foundation
   and it is only possible because the school
   and community work together. The parents
   made the costumes [traditional dress], the
   community came into the school to teach the
   dances, and the teachers made time and gave
   the space to make it all possible.

Therefore goals for short and long term are
   presented, but we have to begin with a culture
   of inviting and involving the parents with us as
   the teachers. For us to change the parents'
   mind we have to find a sensible spot and start
   helping with family problems. Us knowing the
   familiar problems makes it easier to think and
   plan how we can help to reach the result that
   we want.

sometimes I feel like they don't really know
   what is going on. They trust us with their children,
   they don't speak our language, they're
   not communicating with us, they just trust us
   with their children.... Sometimes I just feel
   like they don't have any clue.

I can participate, sometimes, but not all of the
   time. Like when the school sends home papers
   that say, something is going on in the cafeteria
   or in the classroom, and I look at the back of
   the paper and see that they need people to
   bring sodas or snacks or whatever I bring it
   and it is good, but maybe I don't speak a lot
   of English and in the cafeteria, where other
   parents help, the boys tell me stuff that is no
   good or not true and I will not understand or
   be embarrassed so I don't help there, but it is
   possible for me to bring in the snack or soda,
   but I'm not there in the school.

These two families did their best to go to parent-teacher
   conferences, to go to anything.
   Even at times I know not understanding, they
   would still come away from meetings, especially
   before I became involved in their lives,
   coming away from meetings not knowing
   what was being said. They wanted so desperately
   to be involved in their children's lives
   and they would come away from meetings not
   knowing what had gone on and what was
   being said.

The teacher that my kids had last year, the one
   that we were having problems with, was
   always complaining. Because in meeting she
   always asked if we knew how to speak English,
   because she didn't like the fact that we don't
   participate and she would ask us why we didn't
   study English?

I know what that teacher's thinking was, and
   she told me, "If they are going to come here
   it is their responsibility to learn English," and
   not her responsibility at all that she try to work
   through this, and that really bothered me.
   And she was more blunt with it than others,
   though I never really sensed that it was an
   issue with them. If the kids get it, they get it;
   if they don't, they don't. If the parents show
   up, they do; if they don't, they don't.

I think it is good, because sometimes we cannot
   understand or cannot make the teacher
   understand. And I have asked Mrs. Helena,
   "Please ask the teacher." And Mrs. Helena
   would explain to the teacher what happened,
   or the teacher would explain to Mrs. Helena,
   and Mrs. Helena would call me and explain
   that "this is the problem, and you need to go
   to the school or do something." It's good,
   and I don't know if she has told you, but she
   is my mother, my American mother.

Yeah, I think that makes such a difference,
   being aware. Because just like Calida, she did
   not know, because of the language thing and
   because of finances, people can't have a lot of
   things, unless there are things written in
   English and Spanish, and so until she talked
   with a friend who knew, she was not aware
   that they had a program that could help her

In my town there is a big field, and everybody
   sees each other in the community field, playing
   ball or talking. We even see the donkeys
   and the goats. Here we do not see what is
   going on because everyone stays in their houses,
   so we do not know when the children
   should be involved.
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