Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of the American population, and they also have a large school dropout rate, says Michael Woods, the executive director of Casa Guanajuato, a nonprofit organization based in Moline that serves Hispanics and immigrants.

In an effort to curb the dropout rate, Casa has secured a $37,000 grant to launch a parent-mentoring program at two area elementary schools, Hillcrest in East Moline and Ericsson in Moline. The program aims to boost student achievement through parental involvement, Woods said.

The grant was announced Wednesday during a kick-off celebration at a former church on 16th Street in Moline that Casa uses for programs. The award is part of $1 million in total funds awarded throughout Illinois by the State Board of Education and the only grant to go outside the Chicago area.

Under the mentoring program, parents will be trained and placed in classrooms to work with students four days a week, with more training on the fifth day. At the end of 100 hours of service, they will receive a $500 stipend, Woods said.

Eight parent-mentors will be at each school, each providing eight hours a week of service.

“They may not be able to speak English, but they will be able to help in the classroom,” Woods said.

Studies have shown that schools with involved parents have more successful students and that schools with a low socio-economic population have the least-engaged parents, he said.

Spanish is the predominant non-English language spoken at Hillcrest and Ericsson, but there are also significant immigrant populations at Hillcrest that speak Burmese, French, Arabic and Chinese, principal Ron Harris said.

The parent-mentor program is based on a nationally recognized model developed by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association in northwest Chicago that is credited with solving the problem of low parental engagement in low-income schools, as well as improving student test scores, Woods said.

Hillcrest and Ericsson are pilot schools for the program, but Woods hopes it can be expanded everywhere there are significant Hispanic and immigrant populations in the Quad-City area.

In addition to boosting student achievement, the program develops community leaders and brings about personal transformation of the mentor-parents, Bridget Murphy of Logan Square said.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights will administer the program that will begin Feb. 4 in the Illinois Quad-Cities.

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