The Plight of Invisibility

A Community-Based Approach to Understanding the Educational Experiences of Urban Latina/os

by Donna Marie Harris (Author) Judy Marquez Kiyama (Author)
©2015 Textbook XIV, 201 Pages


The Plight of Invisibility offers unique contributions that inform the use of a community-based research approach that examines educational issues identified by urban, Latina/o communities. It offers a new lens from which to understand the circumstances of Latina/o students in schools as they navigate in social systems that are in opposition to them, thus rendering Latina/o students and their families invisible. Despite these challenges, the book offers examples of community programs and resources that support and address the needs of Latina/o students as they build resiliency and determination to persist. Community organizations and advocates, educational researchers, practitioners, students, and policymakers will find The Plight of Invisibility useful to reframe deficit discourses about Latina/o students and their families. In addition, the book is appropriate for classes including methodology courses focused on community-based research, educational policy and/or college access courses, and Latina/o studies courses.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword
  • Acknowledgments
  • 1. Study Background and Book Overview
  • National, State, and Local Trends Regarding Latina/o Persistence
  • Reform and Latina/o Students
  • Latina/o Educational Activism
  • The Latina/o Education Task Force in Rochester, New York
  • Notes
  • 2. Estámos Aquí! A Historical Context for the Plight of Invisibility
  • Development of the Latina/o Community in Rochester
  • Building the Barrio
  • Political Leadership
  • Government Neglect
  • Current Demographics of Latina/os in Rochester: City/Suburban Concentrations
  • Striving to be Recognized and Addressed in Multiracial Coalitions
  • Uneasy Coalitions with Other “Others”
  • Why Was Ibero Formed?
  • Community, Social, Economic, and Political Issues, and Educating Latina/o Children
  • Education
  • Two Reports: Repeated Calls for Action
  • Tracking
  • Magnet Schools
  • English Language Learners and Bilingual Education Programs
  • Staffing
  • Retention
  • Continuing Advocacy, Exercising Agency: Another Task Force
  • Impetus for the Creation of the Task Force
  • Contribution of the Research Collaboration with the University of Rochester
  • Implications
  • Notes
  • 3. A Community-Based Approach: Review of Community Context, Frameworks, and Methods
  • Community-Based Research
  • Frameworks Guiding the Study
  • Creating Research Agenda and Recruitment
  • Participants
  • Data Collection
  • Data Analysis
  • Trustworthiness
  • A Final Note on Community-Based Research
  • 4. School Policies as Barriers for Latina/o Student Persistence
  • Student Voices as a Means to Examine Policy
  • Participant Backgrounds
  • Findings
  • Student Transitions
  • Geographic Transition Factors
  • Policies Related to Student Placement and Access to Bilingual Services
  • Concerns About Safety Within and Outside the School
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • 5. Garnering Resilience: Latina/o Education as a Family, School, and Community Affair
  • Data Collection and Analysis
  • Participants
  • Findings
  • Theme One: High Aspirations and Expectations, in Spite of Frustrating Practices
  • Theme Two: Addressing School Safety and School Climate Issues
  • Theme Three: Challenging Deficit Thinking About Latina/o Youth and Their Families
  • A Common Thread: Moving Toward Greater Voice, Visibility, and Respect
  • Limitations of this Research
  • Implications and Further Recommendations
  • Notes
  • 6. The Role of School- and Community-Based Programs in Aiding Latina/o High School Persistence
  • Introduction
  • Determinants of Student Transition and School Leaving
  • Conceptual Framework
  • Caring Adults as Institutional Agents
  • The Role of Confianza
  • The Role of School- and Community-Based Programs as Sites to Connect with Caring Adults
  • Findings
  • Community- and School-Based Programs and High School Persistence: A Theory of Action
  • Community- and School-Based Programs as Safe Spaces
  • Caring Adults + Familial Relationships + Confianza = Social and Academic Support
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • 7. When Violence Interferes with Educational Opportunity: Latinas’ Narratives of Resistance and Agency
  • Individual Interviews with the Latinas
  • Conceptual Frameworks
  • When Violence Interferes with Educational Opportunity
  • Developing College Aspirations: A Negotiation Between Structure and Agency
  • Where Does the College Road Lead?
  • Serious About Their Education
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • 8. Advanced Placement and College Readiness: An Examination of AP Course Availability and Enrollment Between Urban and Suburban Schools in Western New York
  • Perspective
  • Opportunity to Learn as a Means of Understanding College Readiness
  • The Advanced Placement Program: A Model for College Preparatory Curriculum
  • Within and Between School Disparities in AP Opportunities
  • Measuring Disparities in Access: Disproportionality and AP Enrollment
  • Methods
  • Data
  • Study Context
  • Analysis
  • Results
  • AP Course Availability
  • Between District AP Enrollments
  • District-Level AP Course Enrollments by Race
  • Significance of Results
  • Note
  • 9. Moving Forward: Recommendations, Action Items, and Areas of Focus
  • Recommendations from Initial Community Report
  • A Recommendation Action Plan
  • A Renewed Focus on Action
  • Recommendations Offered Within This Book
  • Moving Forward
  • Notes
  • 10. A Superintendent’s Response: The Latina/o Potential Yet to be Realized
  • Relationships: The Gateway to Protective Factors
  • Practical Application
  • More and Better Learning Time
  • Stemming Summer Learning Loss
  • Instructional Excellence
  • Additional Strategies
  • Conclusion
  • 11. Implications for Practice and Policy: High School Persistence and College Access
  • Building High School Persistence
  • School Counseling
  • Bilingual Programming
  • The Role of Community-Based Programs
  • College Preparation and AP Course Offerings
  • Creating Opportunities for College Access
  • Determine What “College-Ready” Means
  • A College-Going Culture Begins in Elementary School
  • Continue Partnering with Community-Based Programs
  • Conclusion
  • 12. Conclusion, Resources, and Best Practices
  • Models of Community Research Approaches
  • Practitioner as Researcher
  • Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR)
  • Community Organizing and Educational Activism
  • Parent Engagement Models
  • School-Based Interventions
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • About the Authors and Contributors




A recent report indicates that while 80% of high schoolers earn a diploma in the United States, African American and Latina/o learners still account for more than half of high school pushouts in the United States. Thus, although African American and Latina/o students make up only 38% of all high school students in the United States, 54% of these same students never complete high school (Swanson, 2014). I intentionally use the term pushout rather than the more common dropout to describe the school noncompletion process among youth of color. Referring to a youth as a high school dropout implies that this young person has decided on her own accord to leave school. Hence, suggesting that such a student has voluntarily chosen to cease her studies makes it easy to place the blame for this student’s greatly reduced life chances squarely on her own shoulders. In this foreword, I draw from my own work and research with Latina/o community-based organizations and the important roles they can play in the education of youth from this ethnic group (Antrop-González, 2011) in an effort to contextualize the content found within The Plight of Invisibility: A Community-Based Approach to Understanding the Educational Experiences of Urban Latina/os.

Much educational research describes the large extent to which the school-leaving process is much more complex in that most schools serve the primary function of reproducing social class and institutional racism. Thus, schools are actually systemically structured to fail students from racially/ethnically and linguistically marginalized groups. Consequently, progressive educational researchers assert that schools and their agents play active roles in pushing out students of color. More bluntly stated, most U.S. schools are merely institutions charged with continuing the dirty work of government-sanctioned colonialism, which rears its ugly head through various forms. ← vii | viii →

Educational researchers (e.g., Darder, 2012; Nieto, 2000; Solís-Jordán, 1994; Spring, 2012; Valenzuela, 1999) have richly documented the ways in which the curricular ideologies and practices of many schools work to exalt White, middle-class ways of knowing the world while stripping students of color of their primary languages, cultures, and epistemologies. Hence, these schools inflict great psychological trauma on young people and produce what we could call home identity amnesia, which induces the forgetting of one’s linguistic and cultural ways of interacting with one’s home and one’s home community. Nonetheless, while acknowledging the ways in which schools carry on these colonial projects, some communities of color have reacted to these colonial campaigns by conceptualizing and implementing decolonizing community-based institutions, including schools. The Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School (PACHS), situated in the Puerto Rican community of Chicago, is one such example.

PACHS was founded in 1972 as a result of Puerto Rican students’ experiences with racism, whitewashed curricular practices, and low academic expectations that characterized Chicago’s comprehensive high schools. In my own experiences as a Puerto Rican youth attending urban public schools in the South, I all too well remember being told by a high school guidance counselor that my destiny was the military. I was tracked in boring, low-level courses where I was held to low academic expectations. I also was never encouraged to examine my identity as an urban Puerto Rican, born and raised in the Diaspora. Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States since 1898. Hence, I use the term Diaspora to refer to the Puerto Rican population residing in the United States. As an urban Puerto Rican who did not have a deep understanding of his identity, I was not engaged to my fullest academic potential. Consequently, I resisted schooling, earned low grades, and was denied admission to the 4-year state universities to which I applied. Like most Latina/os in the United States who pursue a postsecondary education, I enrolled in a local community college, where I experienced small class sizes, reduced tuition rates, and high expectations from my professors, who felt I had scholarly potential. These positive conditions resulted in my developing a sense of belonging and raised my confidence. For the first time in my schooling, I felt I was capable of being smart and academically successful. Unfortunately, however, I had to wait until I was in college to possess a high self-concept. In fact, it was not until I was a doctoral student in education that I discovered and was drawn to the work of PACHS and its role in educating Latina/o students, which led me to work with and conduct a study of this counterhegemonic learning space. ← viii | ix →

When I began my work with PACHS, I quickly learned it was part and parcel of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center (PRCC). The PRCC is an umbrella community-based organization that houses the work of several important projects in the Puerto Rican community of Chicago. These projects include an HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment referral center (VIDA/SIDA), an after-school youth-led racism and homophobia-free safe space (Batey Urbano), a bakery, a senior apartment housing complex, a culturally relevant preschool (Family Learning Center), and PACHS, among other projects. These PRCC projects often coordinate their programming with each other in order to insure that community residents’ needs are met. Thus, as a PRCC agency, PACHS organizes its curriculum and structure in a community context.

When I interviewed PACHS students to make sense of their schooling experiences in this culturally relevant learning and teaching space, I discovered that students regarded this school as a sanctuary—what a powerful way to think of a school! I was amazed and deeply touched that Latina/o high school students would refer to their school in such a way, as many of their peers in the United States had often experienced schools as sites of psychological trauma. According to the students I spoke with, PACHS was a sanctuary for several reasons. First, teachers affirmed their students’ racial/ethnic and linguistic identities; being Latina/o and/or Spanish-speaking was not viewed as a deficit. On the contrary, courses such as African American and Latina/o studies and Spanish were standard offerings. Moreover, teachers used a variety of texts in order to encourage learners to compare and contrast the ways in which U.S. history was presented. Alternative histories and ways of knowing the world were normative practices at PACHS.

Second, the students I spoke with reported that teachers deeply cared for them. This care was manifested through the establishment of high academic expectations and meaningful student-teacher relationships. In other words, teachers knew their students well. Teachers knew their students’ families and understood the community contexts from which they came. In fact, most of the PACHS teachers lived in the Puerto Rican community where the school was situated, and often participated in after-school and weekend activities with their students. Thus, students viewed PACHS faculty as family. Additionally, students remarked that their teachers did not accept low quality work. Teachers pushed their students to do the best they could academically, encouraging them to be highly capable learners. Finally, the PACHS culture operated from an urgent sense of service to the community, which openly and passionately analyzed social justice issues. These issues included making sense of Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. colony, marching for the release of Puerto Rican political prisoners, and studying the concept of food deserts and acting ← ix | x → to eradicate them by constructing a greenhouse and growing fresh fruits and vegetables so that community residents could have access to these healthy foods on a frequent basis.

In the same spirit that imbues PACHS and the community-based organizations and Puerto Rican ethnic enclave in which they are situated, Harris and Kiyama have brought together scholars who powerfully describe the intersections between community-based organizations of color, schooling for Latina/o youth, and the roles they play within marginalized communities, using the community-based research framework (CBR). In outlining this research framework, they clearly describe the ways in which research is often done on communities rather than with communities. As a colonizing force, researchers have often used their methods to take data from their participants in order to publish books and articles. Hence, the communities they study in no way benefit from such scholarly endeavors; on the contrary, much of this research is focused on what these communities lack as opposed to the rich resources they already possess. In this book, however, the contributors honor and affirm the funds of knowledge and indigenous ways of knowing that communities bring to the research process.

As explained throughout this volume, CBR relies on the active participation of community-based organizations, schools, and community residents in the conceptualization and design of research projects. Thus, the participating community directly benefits from the research process and interrupts the ways in which traditional educational research is conducted. Describing the research partnership between researchers, school districts, and community-based organizations, implications for schooling and serving Puerto Rican children and youth are co-constructed in order to generate ideas revolving around increasing the life chances and structures of opportunity for marginalized communities and their residents.

In sum, it is imperative that teachers, teacher educators, and policy makers pay closer attention to the diverse ways in which schooling practices can be decolonized for marginalized children and youth. Communities certainly already know their children best, and they possess rich sources of knowledge that have the vast potential to enhance the work of schools located within their neighborhoods in the spirit of culturally relevant partnerships. It is only when schools regard communities of color as fully capable partners in the educative process that students will feel a deep sense of belonging and respect for who they are on their way to becoming. Thus, Harris, Kiyama, and the contributors to this book offer us powerful insights into how such a decolonizing community-school partnership makes significant differences in the lives of their learners and the spaces in which they reside. ← x | xi →




XIV, 201
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (May)
Latino community Education policy Community program Deficit discourse Minority
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 205 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Donna Marie Harris (Author) Judy Marquez Kiyama (Author)

Donna Marie Harris is an independent consultant to school districts and non-profit organizations. She has published articles in Educational Policy and Education and Urban Society. Harris received her PhD in educational policy studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Judy Marquez Kiyama is an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Denver. Kiyama has published articles in the American Educational Research Journal and the Journal of Higher Education. Kiyama received her PhD in higher education from the University of Arizona.


Title: The Plight of Invisibility
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