Giving Compass' Take:

•  A Latino-centered collaborative called Santa Ana Partnership shifted its model to help parents become engaged in their children's educational opportunities. 

• How can donors identify and support education-based collaboratives?

• Read about how to support a sustainable collaborative. 

At the Santa Ana Partnership, a Latino-centered collaborative focused on college completion in California, we thought we had it all figured out.

When involving local parents to help guide their children into and through college, we “did all the right things.” We were sensitive to scheduling meetings at times that accommodated parents’ work and family responsibilities. We partnered with institutions of higher education and K-12 schools to support parent events such as Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion nights and university campus visits. We thought we had discovered the right formula to engage parents of first-generation college students.

But our collaborative received a wake-up call when, in the 1990s, we conducted about 50 conversations with teachers, small business owners, parents, college-access professionals, students, principals, and elected officials throughout the community.

We learned that parents were expected to adapt to the culture of schools and were too often relegated to the margins—witnessing the work of educators rather than actively shaping it. While the parents appreciated the aims of our partnership, they believed they had few opportunities to meaningfully inform its program development and student services.

Preparation for the 2017 Camino de Amistad, in which parents, students, and educators canvas the Santa Ana community to remind families about the support Padres Promotores can provide. (Image courtesy of Santa Ana Partnership)
To shift this power dynamic and offer parents more agency in their children’s education, we adapted a parent engagement model from a partner organization, Latino Health Access.

From the start, Santa Ana College provided Padres Promotores with pro bono office space, along with technology and operational support. Partnership leaders leveraged funds from higher educational institutions and K-12 schools to offer modest stipends to the promotores.

We also worked as a team to attract additional funds from foundations and corporations. In addition, we developed family services, including bilingual training seminars, home visits to discuss obstacles in the way of college enrollment, platicas (workshops), parent centers at local feeder schools that create space for topical workshops and parent-to-parent conversations about college, and a “Padre a Padre” workbook with basic lessons and tools to help parents support their child’s journey from kindergarten through college graduation.

Read the full article about parent engagement by Sara Lundquist and Rosa Harrizon at Stanford Social Innovation Review.