Reading, Writing, and Technology: Preliminary Results from a Bilingual Reading and Computer Literacy Program in Lincoln, Neb.
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Latino students' academic performance has long been a concern for schools across the nation. In 2008, the Latino high school graduation rate in Lincoln, Neb., was 55.7 percent compared with an Anglo graduation rate of 81.7 percent (Lincoln Public Schools 2008). Spanish-speaking Latino students in particular are prone to dropping out, experiencing little-to-no academic achievement and scoring significantly lower on standardized test scores in all subjects than their English speaking counterparts (Lopez, et al, 2007). Although there exists numerous remedial programs that seek to address this alarming trend among students in high school, educational research indicates that the most effective strategies for addressing poor high school performance and high school incompletion begin in the preschool and elementary school years (Balfanz, et al, 2007; Lehr, et al, 2004). Some common antecedents to poor academic performance in high school and high school incompletion can be traced back to elementary school and include: limited family resources, inadequate early literacy experiences and inconsistent elementary and middle-school attendance (Lopez, et al, 2007). Interestingly, early literacy experiences appear to affect all of the other content areas in school, including math and science (Shaw, et al, 2001; Lopez, et al, 2007). Recent educational research with low-income, ethnic minority, at-risk students indicates that parental involvement in elementary school and supportive parent and child relationships in middle and high school are strong predictors of unexpected graduation of at-risk students from high school (Englund, et al, 2008). In light of this research, El Centro de las Américas, a nonprofit community center serving the needs of Latinos in Lincoln, has piloted a family literacy program that integrates reading and computer literacy. In this age of digitalized education, parents who have no understanding of basic computer skills are at a significant disadvantage when trying to encourage academic involvement and achievement in their children (Duran, et al, 2001). This is due partly to their children's extensive exposure to, and use of, technology in school. By integrating bilingual reading activities with computer instruction, the program enhances literacy levels in Spanish-speaking immigrant families and success among Latino students. El Centro's literacy program centers not only on the student but also on the entire family. In an attempt to encourage parent participation in the student's education, the program seeks to fuse the cultural importance of family in the Latino community with an increased emphasis on academic achievement. El Centro's program uses a combination of informal discussion groups with the parents, a bilingual reading liaison and instruction in basic computer skills in the school's computer lab. The reading discussion groups serve to infuse the parents with the concept that their children's education is a family activity that necessitates participation from all, while the computer instruction provides them with an essential tool for enhancing academic success. Students participate in bilingual reading clubs with a bilingual reading specialist to work on oral and written fluency. They also receive a new book to read at home each week. Preliminary results indicate increased literacy behaviors at home and at school.