Lessons learned • Couple struggled to understand Mexican school system, realized others may do the same in the U.S.
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Kaysville • Driving down Highway 89 from Ogden to Kaysville on a bicycle built for two, 56-year-old Julie Curtis admits to only a few anxiety attacks when the semitrucks whizzed by on curvy, steep sections of road.
That's pretty good considering Julie's feet are strapped into the bikes pedals and she is riding on the back of the tandem bike at the mercy of her 59-year-old husband, Dean, who controls the steering and the brakes.
Dean and Julie Curtis road their tandem bike from Ogden to Logan between Sept. 10 and 13. Their goal: to raise awareness about a new Spanish DVD they have created to help Hispanic families navigate their way through the school system.
From 2003 to 2006, the Curtis's moved with three of their nine children to Mexico to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While there, they said they encountered huge obstacles understanding how the school system worked in a foreign country.
They did not understand the grading system and could not tell if their children were succeeding or struggling.
"Our kids came home with a paper that said '7.' We didn't know if this was good or bad. There was just a lot of confusion. Eventually we figured out it was not good," said Dean Curtis.
At one point, Julie Curtis sent a check to the school to pay fees only to discover fees had to be paid at the bank. Her children, too, were confused by all the changes and weren't able to let their parents know what they needed or what was required of them. The crumpled check stayed in the teenager's backpack and the Curtis's received a note saying their fees were late.
"It's embarrassing when you don't know this stuff," said Julie Curtis.
When the Curtis's returned to the United States, they couldn't help but think about parents and students from other countries trying to navigate the school system in the states. They discovered that Latino students nationwide were dropping out of high school more and attending college less than any other ethnic group. Aware of how difficult it is to be a parent in an unfamiliar school setting, the couple created a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people have the tools they need to gain an education and become self-reliant.
They created a Spanish parent involvement DVD, El Grito de la Prosperidad (The Cry for Prosperity), to help Hispanic families understand why education is so important and how the U.S. education system works. The DVD covers the benefits of education, how to be involved in school, educational terms, conquering the education system, financial aid and federal grants and loans. The video is composed of vignettes from hundreds of interviews the Curtis's did with Hispanic families across the country.
"We decided we would shout for prosperity just like El Grito de La Independenca did in 1810 when Mexico declared independence from Spain," said Dean Curtis. "It is the same idea. We are going to shout for prosperity and become independent of ignorance and poverty."
The couple has ridden their bike together and rung a bell to represent parents need to unite and work together to help their children obtain an education. Throughout their bike ride, they presented 3,000 copies of their DVD to high schools and colleges.
Dean Curtis chose bicycling as the mode for getting their message out because he loves to bike and spend time with his wife. Julie took a little more convincing, but in the end she was willing to ride for the cause.
"Our kids think we are crazy. They say 'Mom you don't have to do that just because Dad's doing it.' Some of the extended relatives think we are crazy," said Julie Curtis. "But hopefully there are people who will see this DVD and say 'Wow, this is great thing to do.' We are thinking about all the ways to get the word out and hope to get a social buzz going."