Parents + Schools = Successful Children

The National Center for Family Literacy is launching a new set of products titled "Parents + Schools = Successful Children." The materials are designed specifically for Hispanic families, and funding was provided by a $143,700 grant from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation.

The family literacy materials are patterned after comic books and graphic novels referred to as foto-novelas that are extremely popular in Spanish-speaking cultures. The innovative materials will be more effective than traditional literacy materials in helping Spanish-speaking families improve their English skills and increase their involvement in their children's education.

"Foto-novelas are an excellent way to provide information while using photography and a minimum of text to convey the message," said Dr. Deborah Hasson, director of the Hispanic Family Learning Institute and co-director of Toyota Programs for the National Center for Family Literacy. "They are very popular in Spanish-speaking countries and have a much stronger visual impact than most materials for English learners. The text is a conversation rather than narrative in format. Readers can rely on visual cues in the faces and expressions of the characters to help them guess at the meaning. In the United States and Canada, foto-novelas have become popular educational tools."

"Parents + Schools = Successful Children" (Padres + Escuelas = Niños Exitosos) will feature:

Two bilingual foto-novelas for parents titled "Get Involved!" (Involúcrate!) and "Reading at Home" (Lectura en el hogar);

A practitioner guide with lesson plans and activities for adult ESL and native language use; and

Two Web-based flash movies based on the two foto-novelas with audio in English and Spanish, which will be available on NCFL's Web site,

"Through the use of foto-novelas, the National Center for Family Literacy has created an innovative and exciting way to engage parents in their child's education," said Rick Dreiling, Dollar General's CEO. "The Dollar General Literacy Foundation is proud to support this initiative and NCFL's educational programming and outreach efforts for Hispanic families."

According to the PBS series "Independent Lens," foto-novelas have recently become popular in the United States and enjoy print runs in Mexico as large as 250,000, reaching a large reading public.

"This is a great way to reach out to parents who may not be familiar with the U.S. school expectations or feel comfortable in school settings," said Linda Espinoza, Ph.D, and noted expert on English Language Learners from the University of Missouri. "What an inventive culturally appropriate way to communicate with Latino parents."

Hasson said foto-novelas will be effective literacy tools because they have minimal text, which makes them less intimidating to individuals who do not have high levels of literacy. They can act as a bridge to the reading of other materials.

The most recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy issued in 2003 reported that Hispanic adults had the lowest levels of prose and document literacy of any racial/ethnic groups assessed; these had actually declined from the 1992 survey.

In 2006, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, 24 percent of Hispanic adults age 25 and older reported a less than 9th grade education, and 16 percent indicated having attended some high school but not graduating, which further indicates the need for entire families to become part of the solution.