In summary

Schools and educators can provide relief to older Latinx siblings by providing educational opportunities for their most vulnerable students.

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By Vanessa Delgado, Special to CalMatters

Vanessa Delgado is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology at UC Irvine, vdelgad1@uci.edu. Her research explores the ways Latino/a children of immigrants help their parents and family members navigate everyday life in the U.S.

When the stay-at-home order went into effect, schoolteacher Andrea Rivera scrambled to transition her 3rd grade class material into virtual format. Not only was online learning affecting her students but as an older sibling, it was affecting her 14-year-old sister and 20-year-old brother. 

Andrea helped her younger siblings by creating email and Zoom accounts, sharing her laptop so they could review weekly lectures, walking them through homework assignments, and translating conversations between her sister’s teacher and their mom. Even before the pandemic, Andrea had always gone the extra mile to support her siblings. 

Latino/a immigrant parents are strong advocates in their kid’s education; however, their limited English language skills and unfamiliarity with the U.S. educational system can create barriers in helping their children. In some cases, parents struggle to help when their children’s education surpasses that of their own. Parents and older siblings work together to support the academic achievement of younger kin through encouragement and tangible resources.  

In the context of education, one of the main ways older siblings provide support is assisting with homework assignments. When I first met Andrea in 2018, she shared that she routinely checked her siblings’ homework to ensure it was completed correctly and in its entirety. When her siblings were little, she provided incentives such as purchasing them ice cream to encourage them to finish their homework. She still provides incentives. For instance, she recently made a deal with her brother: if he gets straight A’s this quarter, she will get him the much sought-after Nintendo Switch. Other ways older siblings help include working with their parents to choose a school, promoting reading comprehension and working with their siblings to create post-secondary plans. 

Helping out is not always easy. Many younger siblings do not want or care to receive any help. Miguel Orozco shared his tumultuous journey to higher education. As a first-generation college student, he struggled with feelings of imposter syndrome and felt that college may not be for him. He considered dropping out until a professor in the sociology department persuaded him to stay.

The professor became a close mentor of Miguel and with his help he was able to graduate with honors and enroll in a master’s program at a nearby college. Miguel encourages his younger brother to go to college, promising that he will be a supportive mentor throughout the process. However, according to Miguel, his brother is not very receptive: “I try to help, but he doesn’t listen to me. I tell him my experience and what I had to go through. I don’t want him to be worse off than me.” While well intentioned, the reality is that not all younger siblings were interested in pursuing higher education or wanted to listen to the unsolicited advice. 

The support older siblings provide to their younger kin is exemplary of how Latino/a immigrant families work together to navigate inequities in our schooling system. Helping comes from a place of love and protection as the older siblings seek to place their younger brothers or sisters on a path of upward mobility. And, at times, helping out can be frustrating and hurtful when the support is rejected. 

As we continue with online learning into the foreseeable future, older siblings will be forced to step up to supplement their siblings’ education at home, which can include purchasing or sharing their laptops, decoding unclear homework assignments, creating or re-working educational plans, translating on behalf of parents with school personnel, supplementing inaccessible course material, and footing the bill for stronger, more reliable internet access.

Schools and educators can provide some relief to older siblings by providing equitable educational opportunities for their most vulnerable students including items such as laptops, reliable internet hot spots, translators during parent-teacher meetings, and exercising compassion when youth have a hard time completing their schoolwork. Schools can also implement accessible tutoring options for students who may not be able to receive help at home. This will help older siblings not have to step in all the time.  

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