This presentation is based upon an evaluation of an innovative community organizing and leadership development model that was implemented with Latina women whose children attend public schools. Drawing from focus group data, our findings identify processes through which program participants developed leadership skills, built confidence, and took on new roles within schools, neighborhoods, and ethnic communities. The study contributes to knowledge relating to how social workers can support marginalized groups while preventing structural violence relating to educational inequality, sexism, and xenophobia.
The data derives from a evaluation of the Chicago-based Parent Mentor Program. For the purposes of this presentation, we analyzed data collected from eight focus group sessions with Parent Mentors (PMs). Each group included 12-15 parents, all of whom were Latina mothers, and lasted approximately an hour and a half. The focus groups were conducted in Spanish or a Spanish/English bilingual format using a semi-structured interview guide. All focus groups were audio-recorded, transcribed, translated into English. The analysis included the review of the transcriptions for themes relating to leadership development, confidence building, and activism in schools, communities, or political systems. An inductive analysis that utilized open coding was conducted to identify naturally occurring themes and their interrelationships (Corbin & Strauss, 2008; Lincoln & Guba, 1986). Dedoose, a web-based qualitative software program and platform, supported our analysis.
A number of emergent themes were identified regarding civic engagement and activism. First, respondents described the importance of building connections and trust among the other PMs. This cohort group, which would come together weekly, shared information, provided advice and encouragement, and supported members as they took on new leadership opportunities. Second, respondents built connections within their assigned schools. Respondents described how their official role brought them authority and respect, providing them with a platform to get to know other parents. Third, prior to their engagement in the program, many of the PMs did not perceive themselves as possessing worthwhile skills beyond domestic work. They described how the program offered them opportunities, training, and support to try out new roles -- including the chance to support children who struggled in the classroom. This boosted their confidence and contributed to their positive relationships with school officials.
The combination of two new supportive communities, coupled with increased self esteem and skills, culminated in many participants seizing new opportunities to influence educational policy and community resources. Many PMs began to encourage each other to join their school councils so as to hold some formal leverage when it came to the creation of school policy.
Conclusion / Implications
This presentation contributes to social work knowledge and practice by introducing an innovative model of community-based leadership development that combines micro and macro approaches to social change. It suggests that a promising approach to increase the community engagement of Latina women is to build upon their “mothering” roles; a practice that can, overtime, support women as they become confident and prepared to advance educational equity.