For over a decade, Marco Zarate has tried to address the education gap in North Carolina, where the Latino population more than quadrupled over the past decade. Zarate is motivated by the belief that Hispanic students academic success is directly related to the economic competitiveness of the state.

“Hispanic youth are the fastest growing minority in the nation and across North Carolina,” says Zarate, president of the North Carolina Society of Hispanic Professionals (NCSHP), “We strongly believe that an investment in Hispanic students is an investment in our future.”

Education is so important that it has been the society's main focus since Zarate and his wife helped form the group in 1999. The organization hosts an annual publicity campaign to keep kids in school, and a summit that attracts almost 1,000 students, parents and teachers each year.

The results of a recently released Hispanic student survey, funded by the society, sparked the idea for a new educational outreach program aimed at empowering Hispanic parents to support the educational success of their children.    

Hispanics continue to have among the highest dropout rates and academic underachievement of any ethnic group in the US. The dropout rate among Hispanic high school students, twice that of white students in North Carolina; has long been a point of concern among educators. Though some research sheds light on the factors leading to dropouts, few studies have assessed Latino student’s opinions of services and factors that would help them stay in school.

The society's report, Understanding What Affects Latino Dropout Rates in North Carolina, indicates that a key factor associated with student dropout prevention and success in school is parent involvement.

Dr. Andrew Behnke, Assistant Professor and Human Development Specialist at North Carolina State University, assisted in conducting the survey. “There are really important data in our report that shows that having the involvement of both parents makes a huge impact on the the lives and academic success of Latino youth. These results are the motivating force behind hosting the fair today – we want to get both parents working toward their child’s academic success,” Bhenke said.

On August 13, NCSHP held the first Hispanic Parent Education Fair in partnership with NC State University, Univision 40 – Es El Momento Initiative, the Consulate General of Mexico in Raleigh to reach out to the parents of Hispanic students in North Carolina in order to provide them with the tools and information to help their kids through school and encourage them to pursue higher education.

Attendees listened to a motivational keynote address from Mexican Consul General, Carlos Flores Vizcarra, attended workshops, and spoke with teachers and administrators, to learn more about the state's educational system. Among the workshop topics: “School Regulations (Absences, Suspensions), “How to understand your child’s report card,” and “Gang Prevention.”

When asked how he felt about the outcome of the event, Zarate said, “We hope to have more Hispanic parents attend this event in the future. They have to understand that their involvement in their children’s education is the key to the classroom success.”

The society hopes to incorporate Hispanic parental involvement as part of their yearly educational outreach programs and host the Hispanic Parent Education Fair at the start of each school year.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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