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Popular Education “Opens Doors” for Parents—and their Children

  ·  Natalie Vesga

When the Latino Policy Forum brought Abriendo Puertas (“Opening Doors”)an evidence-based, train-the-trainer parent leadership program from California—to Chicago in 2010, we had a modest-but-important goal of empowering 200 local Latino parents with skills to become advocates and agents of change in the lives of their young children. Cognitive foundations are laid early, and Abriendo Puertas would encourage local parents to embrace cultural assets to become their children’s first teachers, thus boosting academic outcomes for Latino students later in life.

Fast-forward three years, and Abriendo Puertas has taken off in Chicago. The Latino Policy Forum has shared the program with 27 local organizations who have, in turn, taught 1,000 Metro Chicago parents how to “open doors” for their children. And we now have ambitious plans to expand the program throughout Illinois. As the Forum’s new Abriendo Puertas Parent Engagement Coordinator, I’m proud to be leading the charge.

Abriendo Puertas is built on the model of educación popular (popular education), which focuses on active engagement from participants, incorporating their experiences into the learning process. The approach works well in Abriendo Puertas, given that many of our participants did not receive a formal education and report being intimidated by other learning methods. Educación popular teaches that everyone has something to contribute to the learning process, and increases parents’ confidence to play an active role in building their children’s academic foundations.

Educación popular calls for the community to think about the realities of their lives, to reflect on and analyze those realities, and to engage in dialogue and organize themselves to take action. In other words (true to the Latino Policy Forum’s mission statement), educación popular calls for the participation of all people, not just Latinos, to work together “through collective action” for the well-being of “society as a whole.”  

What does educación popular look like in action? The Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA) recently held a three-day Abriendo Puertas train-the-trainer session and I had the pleasure of observing a session designed to develop strategies to engage difficult-to-reach parents and create a welcoming environment for future sessions. Participants—mothers—broke up into groups of three, where one person played the role of someone reluctant to be involved in the program. The second person played the mother who was undecided as to whether or not she should participate in the program, and the third person played the parent who was teaching the program to other parents. The mothers then performed as their respective characters in front of the class. The performance was followed by discussion on how to address those abstract characters in real life.

The beauty of Abriendo Puertas is that lessons range from the theoretical to the practical: One participant remarked how glad she was to finally understand the value of nutritional labels as the group learned about the importance of good nutrition for children.

Examples like this illustrate the enormous impact of the Abriendo Puertas program. The LSNA training was a great learning experience for everyone involved—including me—and I look forward to expanding the program to “open” even more “doors” throughout Illinois. 

Posted In: Education, Parent Engagement