PULLMAN, Wash. — Research shows that failure in school is common for Chicana/o students. Marcos Pizarro, a Washington State University Comparative American Cultures faculty member, is trying to find out why and hopes to develop an intervention program that can be used in Chicana/o communities throughout the western United States.
“Despite decades of investigation into their school failure, as many as half of the Chicana/o students in a given class drop out of school. With the ever-increasing number and percentage of Chicana/o youth in the schools of the western United States, addressing this failure has become a matter of urgency both for the Chicana/o population and the larger society,” says Pizarro.
To address the question of why researchers and schools have been unable to significantly address the school failure of Chicana/o students, Pizarro is conducting a comparative analysis of data he collected over the past three years from Chicana/o students in Los Angeles and the Yakima Valley.
The analysis is taking place at the University of California, Berkeley, where Pizarro has chosen to spend one year as recipient of a Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship for Minorities.
His mentor at Berkeley is Eugene Garcia, a nationally known and honored linguistic and cultural diversity expert and dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education. Garcia is a former director of the Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Language Affairs at the U.S. Department of Education.
A WSU assistant professor, Pizarro was one of 29 selected for 1998 postdoctoral fellowships through a national competition. Administered by the National Research Council, the Ford program supports the research and careers of under-represented scholars of color at U.S. colleges and universities, says a NRC official. Each fellowship is valued at $25,000.
Pizarro’s research in Los Angeles involved students attending a metropolitan area public university, a community college and public high schools with predominant Chicana/o student bodies. That research took place in 1995 and 1996 while he was a postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California at Los Angeles’ Chicana/o Studies Research Center.
Yakima Valley research by Pizarro, a Stanford University graduate, took place since he joined the WSU faculty in 1996. In this research — funded by the Spencer Foundation and the Meyer Fund at WSU — he worked with Chicana/o students attending public high schools, Yakima Valley Community College and WSU.
He said his Los Angeles research showed that students’ social identities were “connected to their school performance and that race played a critical role in their identities. While there are similarities in the Yakima findings, these students’ identities are much more influenced by family due to the differences in the socio-political climate.”
“Overall, what is most striking is that often the only difference between successful Chicana/o students and their failing peers is that they have mentors pushing them towards school success and simultaneously helping them negotiate the interracial conflict that is so typical in their schooling. Both types of support are crucial for many working class Chicana/o youth.”
Pizarro’s background includes teaching in a public elementary school in Inglewood, Calif., and serving as a program developer/coordinator at a Santa Monica, Calif., high school. He has also been an academic coordinator and a lecturer at UC Berkeley.

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