I was an Intern with Latinos for Education. Here’s why They can Transform Education and Close the Opportunity Gap

By Denise Maldonado, Former Intern for Greater Houston

I had a full circle moment this past summer as an intern at Latinos for Education that has solidified my perspective and commitment to help more Latinos achieve educational equity.  My introduction to the organization came through my involvement in civic leadership at Rice University. I spent the summer exploring how institutional change in our nation’s education system can happen and be driven by the community through my involvement with Familias Latinas por la Educación.

In Houston’s Gulfton and Magnolia Park neighborhoods, Familias Latinas por la Educación meets every two weeks during the summer to introduce Latinx parents to different facets of Houston ISD whether it be sources of funding, statistics on K-12 student achievement, or district organization. Here, the families gain an in-depth understanding of Houston ISD in their native language. I’ve learned that Spanish-language parent engagement programs like this have the power to reach populations of Latinx families who have been historically sidelined by school systems that don’t see and embrace the linguistic diversity within the Latino community. . The shortage of bilingual-certified education professionals in majority-Latinx schools within Houston ISD showcases the severity of the educational disparities Latinx families face in the district as parents have very little access or ways to meaningfully engage with teachers, school leaders and school board members in conversations about their children’s education. 

In an environment where Latinx parents cannot easily express their thoughts, questions, and concerns to their children’s teachers, there remains a significant disconnect between the main facilitators of a child’s educational progress: their parents and their teachers. Studies have shown that when teachers and parents share the responsibility of their students’ success in the classroom, children are more likely to earn higher grades and test scores, graduate from high school and attend post-secondary institutions, and develop self-confidence and motivation in the classroom setting. The achievement gaps that Latinx students face are a result of deep systemic inequities in public education, including the lack of meaningful engagement with Spanish speaking parents.  During the summer sessions, parents from Magnolia Park and Gulfton shared experiences with culturally-insensitive educators, lack of access to quality early-childhood programs and educational resources, alongside language barriers that prevent parent-teacher partnership.  This emphasized the necessity of programs like Familias Latinas por la Educación

Educational attainment is broadcasted as the key to success in this country, especially when it comes to immigrant families hoping to achieve the American Dream. As a first-generation college student, my family has always emphasized education as the stepping stone to financial security, professional success, and personal growth. In my time interning with Latinos for Education, I saw my own parents within the program’s Fellows and their mutual desire to provide equitable educational opportunities for their children. I see them in the countless sacrifices, hard work, and faith that the next generation will be better off in this country. I believe the program structure, if replicated across the country in major cities with large public school systems, has the power to dramatically improve Latinx students’ academic achievement. 

Though I wish that my parents had the opportunity to participate in Familias Latinas por la Educación when I was a young student, I am grateful that there is a generation of students who will benefit from their parents’ recent engagement with the program material and restored confidence in demanding action and adequate resources for their children’s needs. 

Going forward, my time at Latinos for Education has provided me with an impetus to continue their mission of educational equity, opportunity, and leadership within the Latino community in my future academic and professional endeavors.  I am grateful for the opportunity to connect with local community leaders, learn from their experiences and perspectives, and empower one another through mutual reassurance and community investment. By bringing Latino families into the school system as equal partners, we can truly transform education and close the opportunity gap for historically-marginalized populations. 


Denise Maldonado was a summer intern at Latinos for Education where she provided logistical support for several fellowships, specifically the Latinx Teachers Fellowship and Familias Latinas Por La Educación.