American Dream Academy

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Organized by ASU’s Center for Community Development and Civil Rights, the American Dream Academy is teaching parents and educators how to work together to transform each child’s educational environment by reducing dropout rates and ensuring high school graduation.
Alejandro Perilla, Director of the ASU Center for Community Development and Civil Rights, discusses how the program works.

José Cárdenas: One of the goals of the American Dream Academy is to help parents understand what their child is learning in school, as well as working with teachers to transform each child's learning environment. We will have the director of ASU's Center for Community Development and Civil Rights to talk about the program, but first, here is a little of what the academy is about.

Raul Yzaguirre: The American dream academy is a program and process and a dream. It's about trying to harness the transformative power of parents to make a difference in the educational life of their children.

Maria Ramos: What we do with American Dream Academy is going to middle schools and high schools and offer a nine-week program to parents on how to get involved in their kids' education.

Maribel Castro: Our community, our Hispanic community, They need to know that their children, just like any other children, can go to an university.

Rosemary Agneasens: American Dream Academy, helped us to understand what is our educational system and how does it work.

Michael Crow: It creates an environment where we have direct engagement with the students, prior to them coming to the university which gives us to move forward and it's a critical program.

Kim Eagles: It just kind of different fuses any of the fears --

José Cárdenas: Joining me now is Alejandro Perilla, director for ASU's Center for Community Development and Civil Rights. Thank you for joining us.

Alejandro Perilla: Thank you for having me.

José Cárdenas: Tell us how the program got started.

Alejandro Perilla: It got started three years ago when senior executives at the Arizona State University and I were thinking about what best to do in order to increase the number of Latino student that's attend ASU -- Arizona State University. We thought the best thing was to work with parents and families to help them build the dream and goal for their children at the earliest age to come to Arizona State University.

José Cárdenas: It's based on a successful program developed in California?

Alejandro Perilla: That's exactly right. We looked around the country for programs that that had been successful in achieving the similar kinds of goals we had in mind for the program and we identified the parent institute for quality education in California as a successful model that has been distinguished nature wide and we adopted that model -- and have adapted it with the resources available at Arizona State University.

José Cárdenas: What are the key elements of the program? What makes it the success it is?

Alejandro Perilla: I think cultural competence. Arizona State University said, look, we're going to allow this program the room that it needs in order to higher, train and behave in an way that will allow it to be most successful with the target community. We've been able to do, for example, is use resources from the community in a very, very creative way. Most of the people who teach in this program, that is the facilitators who lead the program workshops at the schools, are members of the community. They're lay educators. That's a very creative and innovative kind of an approach for a university.

José Cárdenas: When you talk about the target community, who are you talking about?

Alejandro Perilla:The children and families that live in the urban core that surrounds the downtown Phoenix campus here at ASU.

José Cárdenas: Let's talk numbers. How many parents have graduated and children benefited from it?

Alejandro Perilla: We've graduated 10,000 parents and 22,000 of their children have benefited from the program. Specifically, we offer the child of every parent who graduates from this program, a future student I.D. card and issued over 22,000 future student id cards for Arizona State University.

José Cárdenas: The program's been in effect for three years, but have you seen any success yet? That this is working?

Alejandro Perilla: Absolutely, we've been in 148 schools and one of the greatest indicators of the success, is principals at the schools where we delivered program have invited us back. And many of the schools, in fact, a little less than half, have actually brought the program back for a second, or in some cases, even a third time.

José Cárdenas: How does it work in terms of the partnership between the schools, ASU and the parents?

Alejandro Perilla:Well, so the schools and the parents must live a very close relationship for many, many years. And so our focus is on getting those parents focused on what it is they can do to support the kind of learning environment at home that the schools need in order for children to succeed academically. We're working with parents on children's self esteem. Discipline, focused on making sure the children and the parents understand what standardized testing is and that from day one, the parents instill in their children the notion that an academic success is not an option. We believe that in the long run, that it will benefit Arizona State University, because parents will understand what Arizona State University means in their community, and that those children will ultimately make ASU their university of choice.

José Cárdenas: Alex, as I understand it, the focus of the program is on recent immigrants. Is that by design?

Alejandro Perilla: It's not necessarily by design. Certainly the program in California has a great focus on that. It just so happens that the demographics around the downtown Phoenix campus is predominantly recent immigrants and so that has allowed that program that we adopted from California to be extremely successful in these neighborhoods. But our goal and ambition is to serve the entire state of Arizona and, in fact, we have very concrete plans to expand into Tucson and even some native American communities have invited us to deliver the program there.

José Cárdenas: Is it easier for harder to deal with new immigrants as opposed to second, third generation Mexican-American families.

Alejandro Perilla: The difficulty of working with second and third generation families, they may have experienced inequities in schools. So their view of the system -- if I might use that terminology -- is somewhat less optimistic. Because the system may have failed them in some way. So we have to work even harder to convince these families what it is they have to do and how they can work with the schools in order to help their children succeed. More recent immigrants have a more optimistic view. And research bear this is out. Of society and the system.

José Cárdenas: I want to talk a little bit more about the program but I want to make sure we talk about the award that the program is being considered for. Tell us about that.

Alejandro Perilla: In fact, I'm very happy to say that we won the award. The national award. And it was quite a honor to win the award among many distinguished universities . it recognizes excellence by universities in serving their communities.

José Cárdenas: And the significance of this particular award?

Alejandro Perilla:I think the significance of this award for this program is that there's recognition within the academic community that this program is not just shall we say, a flight by night kind of operation, but there's a fundamental research basis for the program. And that there's a fundamental service that this program can provide, not just to Arizona State University. But to many universities around this country.

José Cárdenas: It sounds like things have gone well. But there must have been challenges.

Alejandro Perilla: I think the biggest challenge with this program is serving the incredible need and interest that parents have in helping their children succeed in school. We're often portrayed as parents as being too busy, uninterested, not having time to come into schools for various types of activities, but really if parents are asked in very particular way, whether it's in their language or in an way they want, they'll come, they'll participate, they'll stay. Our program lasts anywhere from nine to ten weeks and we have -- well, 10,000 parents who have been willing to stay in schools for that long in order to graduate and be recognized as graduates of the American Dream Academy.

José Cárdenas: Congratulations on the award and program and thanks for join joining us on "Horizonte."

Alejandro Perilla: Thank you.

Alejandro Perilla:Director, ASU Center for Community Development and Civil Rights;

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