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Education Official's Speech Stresses Parents' Role


SYLMAR — A top official with the U.S. Department of Education urged San Fernando High School students Thursday to read for at least 30 minutes a day this summer to improve their reading skills.

Mario Moreno, assistant secretary for intergovernmental and interagency affairs, made his pitch during a stop at Mission College, part of a two-day visit to Southern California to encourage Latino parents to be more involved in their children's schooling and to publicize the agency's collection of Spanish-language educational materials.

In the morning, Moreno visited Washington Elementary School in Santa Ana, where about 400 parents read with their children before school every day. That kind of parental dedication can keep kids from dropping out, Moreno said.

"One of the reasons [students] don't stay in school sometimes is they don't learn to read," he said.

Moreno's visit was sponsored by Project GRAD--an acronym for Graduation Really Achieves Dreams--a $40-million initiative based in the Los Angeles Unified School District's San Fernando cluster. Project GRAD, funded by federal grants, district contributions and private donations, offers $6,000 scholarships to San Fernando High students in the class of 2003 who meet academic requirements.

Moreno encouraged Latino parents to use the Spanish-language materials published by his department, including literature about its Partnership for Family Involvement in Education, which focuses on improving parental participation, students' college access, and math and reading skills. The program aims to ensure children learn to read by third grade and take algebra by eighth grade.

"The secretary has converted it into a bilingual department," he said of Education Secretary Richard W. Riley.


Lack of sufficient parental involvement and difficulty mastering English may be connected to Latinos' high dropout rate, which is 2 1/2 times the rate of whites and twice the rate of African Americans, Moreno said. Getting Latino parents involved in education can turn that around, he said.

"A lot can can be achieved by recruiting the parents," Moreno said. "They're with the child more than the teachers. They can give more encouragement. [But] parents invariably tell me . . . 'What are the steps? Give me some rules. Give me some checklists.' They're kind of apprehensive."

Many Latino parents also believe that only teachers can teach their children properly, Moreno said, and schools need to reach out to them by offering more bilingual coordinators or volunteers.

"Parents are the ones who need to feel welcome," he said. "We need to look at the way we engage parents--with sensitivity toward language and culture."

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