Class Action: The Strong Social Skills of Latino Kinders

In many ways, the kindergarten at Beresford Elementary School in San Mateo is a reflection of the shifting demographics of California.

More than half the students at this school - and statewide - are Latino. Latino students as a whole have historically lagged behind their peers but research is shedding new light on little-known strengths.

“The common perception about language delays, lower English proficiency, somewhat lower cognitive skills, problem solving skills, that’s all true,” says UC Berkeley professor Bruce Fuller, co-author of a recent joint UC Berkeley-UCLA study of young Latino children. “But the surprising finding is that that doesn’t track against their social skills.”

Latino children have on average strong social and emotional skills, according to the study.  They show up for kindergarten mature, they respect their teachers, they’re ready to share - and ready to learn.

“What we’re realizing now as I talk to my kindergarten teachers is that when looking at the classes we had here at Beresford, both classes, the kids that were really ready socially were our Latino families’ children,” says Beresford Elementary School principal Cristina Haley.  “And that just tells us that things are changing.”

Haley says Latino families are increasingly taking advantage of education opportunities before age five, including free transitional kindergarten.

Rodrigo Sandoval says preschool helped his son get a head start.

“We thought it was going to be hard for him,” he says.  “No, he’s happy. He wants to come every day.”

Rebeca Tapia says a year of preschool really helped her daughter too.  She and her husband help at home.  And it’s that environment at home that may be having the biggest impact at school.

“It’s a real different mind shift,” says Haley.  “It’s extremely important for us to look at it differently and have a different attitude about how we embrace the Latino families when they come in through our doors.”


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