JOSE-PABLO FERNANDEZ

United States,

Providing Hispanic parents with educational opportunities that will enable them to become active agents of change to reduce the dropout rate, transform communities, and ensure a better future for their families.

This profile below was prepared when Jose-Pablo Fernandez was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2004.

INTRODUCTION

Jose-Pablo Fernandez offers vital job training to Hispanic immigrants while increasing their involvement in their children’s education. He creates programs to help kids succeed in school, teach parents key technological skills, and strengthen the bonds among Hispanic families.




THE NEW IDEA

Many Hispanic immigrants find themselves locked into dead-end, low-wage jobs by barriers of language and culture, bringing serious consequences for themselves and their children. Jose-Pablo Fernandez helps immigrant parents escape unfulfilling work through job training programs, and at the same time helps them secure quality education for their children. At the Mexican Institute, immigrant parents take distance-learning courses offered by Monterrey Tech, a leading technical institution in Mexico. He offers these courses at community learning centers, often housed in local schools to involve parents in their children’s education as they learn crucial job skills.

Too often, immigrants with limited English skills and little formal education struggle to help their children with their schoolwork. In time, the children surpass their parents in their education, making it difficult for parents to play a supportive role in their children’s lives. Jose-Pablo’s idea is to help immigrant mothers and fathers catch up to their children in educational attainment, so that they can regain their parental authority, establish themselves as role models, and help their children succeed in school. His plan focuses on building bridges to local public schools and community colleges—offering parents instruction in their own language at their children’s schools, as well as at community centers, apartment complexes and in the workplace.

Jose-Pablo focuses on helping immigrant parents attain computer proficiency, which allows them to acquire necessary skills and access to vital information about education, employment, health and citizenship. Parents are drawn to Jose-Pablo’s program by the prospect of earning a diploma from Monterey Tech, an institution that is highly regarded in the Spanish-speaking community. By connecting new immigrants with a brand that is universally known and respected, Jose-Pablo can develop the grassroots participation needed to achieve broad social impact.




THE PROBLEM

Immigrant families come to America hoping to achieve better lives for themselves and their children. But for many Hispanic immigrants to the United States, poverty is the norm. Most find themselves working unskilled jobs at low pay for long hours, leaving little time or energy for additional skills training. Meanwhile, unfamiliar with the American culture and unable to speak English well—if at all—many Hispanic immigrants live in an isolated community of other immigrants, further isolating them from opportunities for social and economic advancement.

As many immigrants struggle in the workplace, their children struggle in the classroom. An astonishing number of Hispanic students in the United States fail to achieve academic success: one out of every three drops out of high school, and only 10 percent graduate from four-year colleges and universities.

Improving education for Hispanic parents and students is a critical goal—not only for their long-term economic advancement, but also for the preservation of their families. Many immigrant parents—with limited English skills and little or no formal education—are ill-prepared to work with their children’s teachers or advise their children on their educational options. Children quickly outpace their parents in English and cultural proficiency, compromising their parents’ ability to assert authority or offer guidance. Unlike children in mainstream America, the children of many Hispanic immigrants are unable to turn to their parents for help with schoolwork, contributing to struggles in school and low rates of graduation. An entire generation of Hispanic immigrants in the United States is at risk of being left behind the educational curve, unable to become the doctors, lawyers, and the leaders they aspire to be.Immigrant families come to America hoping to achieve better lives for themselves and their children. But for many Hispanic immigrants to the United States, poverty is the norm. Most find themselves working unskilled jobs at low pay for long hours, leaving little time or energy for additional skills training. Meanwhile, unfamiliar with the American culture and unable to speak English well-if at all-many Hispanic immigrants live in an isolated community of other immigrants, further isolating them from opportunities for social and economic advancement.

As many immigrants struggle in the workplace, their children struggle in the classroom. An astonishing number of Hispanic students in the United States fail to achieve academic success: one out of every three drops out of high school, and only 10 percent graduate from four-year colleges and universities.

Improving education for Hispanic parents and students is a critical goal-not only for their long-term economic advancement, but also for the preservation of their families. Many immigrant parents-with limited English skills and little or no formal education-are ill-prepared to work with their children's teachers or advise their children on their educational options. Children quickly outpace their parents in English and cultural proficiency, compromising their parents' ability to assert authority or offer guidance. Unlike children in mainstream America, the children of many Hispanic immigrants are unable to turn to their parents for help with schoolwork, contributing to struggles in school and low rates of graduation. An entire generation of Hispanic immigrants in the United States is at risk of being left behind the educational curve, unable to become the doctors, lawyers, and leaders they aspire to be.




THE STRATEGY

Through a partnership with the Monterrey Tech, renowned for its distance-learning programs in Mexico and Latin America, the Mexican Institute offers Spanish-speaking immigrants in the United States a way to acquire computer literacy and other skills essential to improving their job prospects.

The Mexican Institute operates community learning centers, which offer individualized, self-paced courses taught in Spanish. Jose-Pablo brings programs directly to its students, setting up learning centers in schools, apartment complexes and workplaces. The centers are staffed by on-site facilitators, who are trained and supervised by the Mexican Institute. Students pay a small fee—$5 per week—for a 17-week course. Although the coursework is in Spanish, the computer commands are in English, so students are prepared to use computers in any business or academic setting.

The certificates and diplomas issued by Monterrey Tech are often the only educational credentials the students have ever earned, and the skills they learn are often the gateway to better jobs. Some graduates of the Mexican Institute have leveraged new Web design skills to start their own businesses; others have been hired for white-collar jobs. The Mexican Institute has even hired particularly committed graduates to work as facilitators or tutors. As Jose-Pablo identifies business needs in the communities he serves, he pushes Monterrey Tech to add courses that meet those needs.

Since its inception in January 2002, the Mexican Institute has established dozens of community learning centers in Houston, Atlanta and a third city in Georgia. Jose-Pablo founded the first corporate learning center at the Mission Foods tortilla factory in Houston. Now, most community learning centers are based in schools, winning great successes for adult students and their children. Some schools have asked for a second facilitator, so they can open additional sections to accommodate the demand for the program. One school opens its computer lab to parents and children every Friday night, so the children can do their schoolwork alongside their parents.

The Mexican Institute plans to expand its programs in the greater Houston area and in Georgia, with the eventual goal of branching out to cities across the country.




THE PERSON

Jose-Pablo Fernandez is the second of nine children. He was raised in an upper-middle-class family in Mexico City that viewed education as the key to success. They sent Jose-Pablo to Miami to learn English when he was 16. He returned to Mexico to study industrial engineering, a field well-suited to his artistic temperament. He became the chief of technical information services for the government’s National Science and Technology Council. In this position, he set up a successful system to disseminate technical information to small companies throughout Mexico.

In 1997, after stints running his own business and working full-time as a photographer, Jose-Pablo moved to Texas with his wife and daughter. He became the director of the Mexican Cultural Institute in Houston. Although he was hired to promote Mexican culture, he was compelled to switch his focus after realizing the great need for education in the Mexican immigrant community. In 2002, he obtained a non-profit charter, formed a board of directors, and began working to fulfill the Mexican Institute’s mission: to enrich the lives of Hispanic families through education.




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