Tuesday, August 14, 2012

newest graduate: maria elena alejo

It is a big day for Maria Elena Alejo. Today the 27-year-old UAC-CP Education major becomes a college graduate!

In order to arrive at this momentous landmark in her life, Maria Elena was required to develop, research, write and defended a thesis project--a process that often requires at least 12 months of hard work, dedication, and patience for all the revisions along the way. Her thesis project focused on the role of parents in their children's academic success at the primary school level. Based in her home community of Miraflores, Maria Elena considered three major factors: financial support, moral support, and educational support (helping with homework, etc.) of parents.

You can hear Maria Elena talk about her project in her own words on this short youtube clip.

"I chose this thesis topic," she explained, "because in the rural area they always say that parents don't provide a lot of support for their children. One, is because parents work. The other is because parents often have very little education themselves. The majority of parents, for example, studied up to just middle school. So, they aren't able to provide a lot of homework help for their children."

Financially, she said, most parents can provide the basic supplies for their children: pencils, notebooks, etc. But parents, Maria Elena found, are not as likely to provide a lot of moral support and encouragement nor much help with homework.

As a result, most academic achievement really depends on each child. "It's the children with a lot of self-determination who are able to succeed on their own and 'go forward.'"  Her thesis findings indicated that most young students don't receive the moral and academic support they need to be successful.

Though Maria Elena believes that it's not because parents don't value education. In most cases parents just don't know how to be helpful. In fact, the most frequent response Maria Elena received from parents is the exact same message I hear from parents of UAC-CP students: "I want my children to go places, to be someone. I don't want them to be like me, to have the same life as me.'" (That said, of the 22 parents that she interviewed in Miraflores, two "older" parents did indicate that they did not believe education was that important, particularly for girls.) It's clear to Maria Elena that the perception of education is changing and, in her opinion, improving with each generation. Younger parents, she said, want more resources to help their children do better in school.

Curious, I asked Maria Elena about her own experience as a primary school student raised in a single-parent household. She smiled and laughed. "I was fortunate," she said, "I had a lot of support from my mom. She didn't necessarily help me with my homework [Maria Elena's mother studied to the 7th grade], but she was able to provide a lot of moral support. My mom always told me things like, 'You can do it.' 'You know this.' For me, her support is what motivated me."

Based on her thesis, her personal experience growing up in Bolivia, and her year-long internship as a teacher at Adams Spanish Immersion School in St. Paul, Minnesota, Maria Elena believes she has some solutions to help parents take a more active and supportive role in education.  First, she wants to offer workshops for parents that would discuss the role they need to play in their children's academic success.  Second, she believes a facilitator is necessary to help improve relationship and communication between parents and teachers.  Teachers need to be more open and encouraging of meeting with parents and sharing information about the students, and parents need to be more actively engaged and interested in their children's school work.  Finally, Maria Elena says parents need to know--and be reminded--that they must set the example and the expectations at home. Parents must read with children or, for those unable to read, ask their children to read with them.  (Reading is not part of Bolivian culture. Just last night on the news, I heard a statistic that 80% of Bolivians don't read even one book per year).

Maria Elena plans to write up a proposal to the mayor's office in the Municipality of Coroico that would organize these workshops for local communities and schools and she would like to facilitate them.

I asked her if she thinks perceptions of education and the role of parents in their children's education will change in Bolivia.  She took a deep breath and sighed as she considered that challenge. "I hope it will change," she said sincerely. "I want it to change."

One thing is for sure, things are changing in Maria Elena's life...thanks to education. She has already obtained her "diplomado en educación superior" (a type of certificate program for teaching) and now, with her college degree in hand, plans to get her master's degree.

Maria Elena still gives a big nod to the role her mother has played in her academic achievement. "My mother has made all the difference. All the goals I've ever set for myself, I have always achieved them. As my mom says, everything is possible...it just depends on me." 


Anonymous said...

This is such important research. We're so proud of Mari's hard work to get this done and we're lucky to have gotten to know here here in Minnesota. Way to go Mari!

Anonymous said...

Hooray for Maria Elena! Your friends in Minnesota are very proud of you! CONGRATULATIONS!!!

Thanks for this great news Sarah.

Beth Kellar-Long

Trudy Hermann-Amity Institute said...

As Maria Elena's program sponsor for her assignment at Adams Spanish Immersion School we are delighted to learn of her achievement!