Sunday, March 18, 2012

Reaching out to the families of your English Language Learners

So, you have my deepest apologies that I have been MIA. I came down with the FLU! The last time I had the flu was when I was in college 10 years ago and got it as a result of the flu shot. Therefore, I don't get the shot, and I also don't usually get the flu.....until this year! Wowie......does it really take it out of you!

On the upside though, I'm feeling better and starting to get back in action. I don't have a great, new or exciting product to share with you right now. I can tell you about my Elementary Geometry Vocabulary Matching Cards, or you can head over to The Lesson Cloud and read all about them!

Today, I really wanted to discuss with you some ways that you can connect to the families of your English language learners. Every school that I have worked at has struggled with bringing in families to school events and PTA meetings, other than events where students were performing. At many of the schools I have worked at, this has been due to the fact that 2/3 or more of the school's population was LEP (Limited English Proficient). Often, due to cultural reasons, work reasons, and a myriad of other reasons, LEP parents are less likely to attend school functions and be actively involved in their student's education if they don't speak English.

I believe that parent involvement, whether in the home or at school, in English or the native language, is an important part of the school and learning experience, and this is especially true for LEP students. So, how can you help your LEP parents, especially those who don't speak English, to become more involved in their child's school experience?

Find out what times work best for your LEP parents and be flexible.
At many of the schools that I worked at, our LEP parents did not attend after-school events because they were working. In my experience, LEP parents often depend on older children to watch younger children in the evenings so they can work. Therefore, their days were free. We got huge response from our LEP parents by holding informational breakfasts. We would also set aside an area with activities and snacks for non-school age children with a staff assistant to monitor them so that parents could focus on the information they were receiving. Work with the ESOL Specialist at your school to make an event happen for your LEP parents.

Provide translators for informational sessions and school events.
Many LEP parents don't speak English themselves. The ones who do may still struggle to keep up with the pace of discussion at meetings or events. Most school districts with large numbers of LEP students receive Title III funds which can be used to purchase translators for events and document translation services. If parents know that they will be able to understand what is going on, ask questions, and participate, they will be more likely to show up. Would you go to a meeting that was held in Russian if you didn't speak Russian?

Show parents how much you appreciate their culture and diversity.
Hold schoolwide celebrations of cultural events like Hispanic Heritage Month, Asian Heritage Month, Cinco de Mayo, Lunar New Year, and other relevant cultural holidays to provide students the opportunity to learn about lots of different cultures. Invite students and their families to share cultural artifacts, recipes, experiences, music, and more.
Furthermore, encourage parents who don't speak English to practice math, reading and writing skills in the native language with their students. Students who have a strong foundation in their native language are usually more successful in acquiring a second language. This shows parents that you value their knowledge, language, culture, and contribution to their child's education.

Make use of community resources.
If your school has a large population of Peruvian immigrants, for example, then there are likely to be more than one Peruvian owned restaurant or business nearby. Visit those business and see if they would be willing to donate items for your parent meeting- food, door prizes, etc. Learn about other community organizations that speak the native languages of your LEP families and that can provide support and other services for them so that you can make this information available to families.

Provide volunteer opportunities for your LEP parents.
Find some tasks in your school that require little or no English proficiency, such as making copies, stuffing envelopes, or assembling bulletin boards. Make these available as volunteer opportunities for your LEP parents. If you have parents who are bilingual, ask them to volunteer to translate for school events or as a parent liaison.  

I hope these tips will help you to reach out to the families of your LEP students and help them become involved in their child's education. If you'd like more tips on the subject, check out this website.

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