Doré R. LaForett
We asked scholars to describe some of the following questions: What drew you to do work on Latino youth and families? Who was an important mentor to you in this work? What tips do you have for someone starting out?
My initial research interests started in the area of understanding the achievement gap, particularly work focused on lower high school completion rates for Latino students. As an undergraduate student, I remember reading research articles on this topic, often thinking about my own experiences and those of my family and friends – and how most of these papers left unexamined the contextual factors, individual differences, and experiences that support or hinder opportunities for Latinos to experience success at all levels of education. To me, this work felt incomplete for all these reasons, in addition to largely lacking the perspective of Latinos in understanding this phenomenon. Around this same time, I was introduced to the work of scholars such as Urie Bronfenbrenner and John Ogbu, while I was also learning more about the origins of the Head Start program and other initiatives with a promotion and prevention focus. These works greatly resonated with me, and I consider them to have been foundational in having my career focused on early childhood research, where I apply a cultural lens in my work with low-income and ethnic/linguistic minority children and families across the promotion, prevention, and treatment continuum.
In my experience, one of the best things I think you can do is to spend time in the communities and with the people who are the focus of your research – but to do this leaving your professional agenda at the door. My graduate advisor, Julia Mendez, was a big proponent of this, requiring students to spend time in Head Start classrooms so we could learn more about the day-to-day experiences of the children, parents, and teachers involved in the program (our research was in Head Start programs). Volunteering in classrooms, serving on committees, and providing free services such as professional development sessions are all great ways to better understand your research population and think about the ecological validity of your work.
We invited scholars to describe a recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes them excited about it.
I am really excited about a new study, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), I am leading with my fellow Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute colleague Ximena Franco (Co-PI) and Adam Winsler (Co-PI) at George Mason University. The study focuses on Spanish-English dual language immersion education elementary settings. The study aims to examine associations between language of instruction and kids’ academic outcomes, and we want to know how things like students’ academic self-concept, approaches to learning, academic engagement, and relationships with teachers play roles in these associations. This work, in part, grew out of previous work done by Dr. Franco and myself, where we were approached by dual language educators who came to us sharing observations of how kids with Spanish home language backgrounds were not as engaged in academic instruction, compared with kids with English home language backgrounds, when the language of instruction was Spanish. This observation runs contrary to what we would hope to see in a dual language education setting, which aims to be responsive to and leverage the strengths of Spanish-speaking students and subsequently increase academic engagement and achievement. Examining these questions empirically, particularly early in students’ academic trajectories, has the potential to help us better understand how we might make the most of educational contexts designed to be responsive to the needs to Latino children. You can read more about our new study, “BEE Project: Bilingualism, Education, and Excellence/Proyecto BEE: Blingüe, educación y éxito” at:
Upcoming research presentations we should know about?
In terms of recent publications I’m excited about, last year Julia Mendez and I published a paper entitled “Children’s engagement in play at home: A parent’s role in supporting play opportunities during early childhood” that examines Latino and African American parents’ beliefs about play as valuable for their preschool children’s learning. We have recently learned that this paper will be included in a new book tentatively titled “Towards Social Justice and Equity: Reconsidering the Role of Play in Early Childhood” (edited by Julie Nicholson and Debora Wisneski) scheduled to be published in late 2018/early 2019. You can read more about the original paper here:
Reflections on Latino Caucus Experiences:
Finally, we asked about experiences with the SRCD Latino Caucus: Why is the caucus important and/or your views on the role of the Latino Caucus vis-à-vis SRCD, research on child development, policy/practice.
I am so fortunate to have been a part of the SRCD Latino Caucus since its beginnings, where I was a graduate student member of the Founding Committee. It has been exciting to see how the Caucus has evolved over time. To me, one of the greatest strengths of the Latino Caucus is its potential for connecting Latinos scholars and scholars who are interested in Latino child development. In addition, we are now at a time when our infrastructure as a Caucus, combined with changes in how we communicate especially due to social media, makes the Latino Caucus well-positioned to have our knowledge, voices, and experiences come to the forefront to impact policies and practices affecting Latino children and families. Clearly, the Caucus’s rapid, high-quality responses via the research brief and webinar to the Immigration Family Separation crisis is just one example of the vital role that the Latino Caucus plays.