EdNews Parent expert Jackie Hernandez responds:
Q. I am very active in my child’s school, but the parent volunteers don’t tend to reflect the diverse student body of the school. I’d like to get more Hispanic parents involved as volunteers. I don’t speak Spanish and I know not all parents have access to the Internet. What can I do to boost parent involvement across the board?
A. Strong, culturally responsive, school-community partnerships will consistently yield high growth and academic achievement for all students. Regardless of the contextual make-up of your school, parent involvement is the key to success for your student body.
In a linguistically diverse community, there are many ways to bolster parent participation. The first trick is to portray your school as a culturally sensitive learning environment. This can be done by publishing all correspondence in your target language (in this case, Spanish), and by updating your school’s marquis with a bilingual welcome message. Some schools alter their mission and vision statements to reflect a desire to serve the entire community.
Language minority parents are typically afraid to attend back-to-school nights, parent-teacher conferences and other orientations due to language barriers. Invitations, phone calls and other forms of personalized contact made in the target language can help families know that they have a role in their child’s school regardless of their language skills. Many schools also find success in offering a special back to school night specifically for ESL (English as a Second Language) parents who have unique questions and concerns compared to their mainstream counterparts. In all cases, be sure to have an interpreter who can deliver the message and conduct the meetings effectively.
Another great way to welcome diversity into your schools is to host workshops or community assistance programs at the school site. One may offer free ESL classes, literacy workshops and hands on instruction in technology. Again, be sure to offer these classes with bilingual instructors. Title I money, state grants, and/or local non-profit organizations can often cover the costs of these programs. If the school has an online grading portal, opening the campus computer lab for a technology seminar can help parents learn how to track their students’ grades from home or by visiting a local library.
Finally, many school districts have found success by introducing a Hispanic Parent Teacher Organization, which may provide a platform for the parental concerns of limited English proficient students. In this setting, parents are given the opportunity to not only have a voice, but also the responsibility to take part in their child’s education.
Whichever methods you try, you must first assess the perspectives of the families in your community. While some parents have been acculturated and are comfortable in their environment, many immigrant families are still coping with culture shock and are simply trying to survive. Becoming sensitive to these issues will help you not only to understand the families at your school, but it will also help you to know how to effectively engage your community.
About our First Person series:
First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.