- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Hispanic immigrants who regularly attend church are more likely to do well in school and reverse high drop-out rates, especially in impoverished school districts, according to a study released yesterday.
"Religion matters for Latinos because it provides important educational opportunities outside school and … the church environment reinforces the importance of learning and discipline," says the report.
The study, which analyzed responses from about 7,000 Hispanic students and parents collected in three national surveys from 1996 to 1999, was released at a conference on Hispanic affairs at the University of Notre Dame.
"Religion is particularly important in protecting impoverished Latino youth," the study said, noting that it helps students pay attention in class and escape the "oppositional culture" often found in inner-city schools.
While many studies have looked at how Hispanic educational achievement is affected by economics, ethnic background and family structure, this is the first to collect available data on the role of religion.
In the past year, similar studies on the entire teen population have found a strong link between religious attendance and success in school and self-esteem.
The new 50-page report, "Religion Matters," was released by sociologists David Sikkink and Edwin Hernandez of Notre Dame. It emphasizes that Hispanics now are the largest ethnic minority and may become 25 percent of the U.S. population in future decades.
According to other research, 40 percent of school-age Hispanics born abroad are not enrolled in school. The drop-out rate for Latinos ages 16 to 24 is 21.6 percent, about twice that of whites.
Immigrants and especially Dominicans, Cubans and Mexicans produce more single-parent families the longer they live in the United States.
"Religion may mitigate this trend," the new report said.
The report questioned predictions that a "permanent Latino underclass" is inevitable, and rejected the theory that poor Hispanics who take refuge in Catholic enclaves or Protestant sects will reject secular education.
"Religion seems less likely to create a community of closed minds than to create the conditions in which Latino youth excel in school," the report said.
The parents involved in evangelical Protestant sects, in fact, tend to "communicate higher educational aspirations" than do Catholic parents. And students from active religious families tend to do better in math and science than other Hispanics.
The findings make sense to Leah Tenorio, Hispanic ministry coordinator at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Alexandria. She agreed that social connections immigrants find in churches help overcome economic obstacles.
"The effort that a family makes to go to church means a strong family relationship and a positive atmosphere," Miss Tenorio said. "The church often connects the immigrant to services that help their children at school."
She recommends that American churches expand Spanish-language activities. The report, in turn, suggests public schools with Hispanics work with churches.
"Higher [church] attending Latinos are more likely to read books to their children," the study found. Churchgoers are 18 percent more likely to take children to a library than non-attenders.
Weekly churchgoing families, moreover, are 30 percent more likely to instruct their children in "time management" and 24 percent more likely to have "discussed future plans with the child" than parents who attend occasionally.
"While the first-generation immigrant Latinos have a strong achievement ethic, it is difficult to pass those on to the second and especially third generations, which are likely to be more heavily influenced by American popular culture," the study said.

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