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Katherine Taylor Haynes

High school students work together in the classroom
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Language as Benefit, not Barrier

As the daughter of a Foreign Service officer in Latin America, Katherine Taylor Haynes had frequent opportunities to experience different cultures. At Harvard Graduate School of Education, she pursued a master's degree in international education policy. She also worked for the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank. All these experiences proved helpful when she began to research Latino immigrants for her dissertation at Vanderbilt.

Taylor Haynes conducted interviews in Nashville's immigrant community to examine how parents' generational status and educational attainments influence their involvement with their children's schooling. Given estimates that nearly half of Latino students drop out, she says it is important for teachers, superintendents, school boards, legislators and policy-makers to develop strategies to help Latino students succeed.

Schools need to do a better job of involving bilingual parents as translators and cultural liaisons to new arrivals, Taylor Haynes says. Her interviews showed that bilingual ability and participation in social networks greatly added to parents' sense of personal efficacy and opportunities for involvement. She recommends pairing programs to match newly arrived immigrant parents with those who are more established. More after-school programs to help students learn English are also needed.

Taylor Haynes says her findings also dispelled conventional wisdom about immigrant ambitions. "We have thought of America as a melting pot," she says. "I found that even the first generation views their native Spanish language as an asset. And the second generation does not want to be compelled to assimilate. They want to create a model of being more."