Families & the Community

Connecting With English-Learner Families: 5 Ideas to Help Schools

By Corey Mitchell — November 27, 2019 2 min read
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English-language-learner families are less likely than English-only families to attend parent-teacher conferences and other school-related events, according to a new U.S. Department of Education fact sheet.

The report from the department’s office of English-language acquisition uses data from National Center for Education Statistics surveys to examine how schools connect with families who speak languages other than English.

Research shows that children whose parents are involved in supporting their learning do better in school. For English-learners, educators think that parent involvement can be especially important for supporting successful language development.

But the fact sheet shows that English-learner families—most of whom are Latino—are far less likely to volunteer or serve on school committees and attend school or class events, important opportunities to communicate about students’ academic progress.

Maria Estela Zarate, a professor in the department of educational leadership at California State University, Fullerton, has found that schools and Latino families have different perceptions of what constitutes good parental involvement.

In her research, Zarate found that teachers and school administrators felt that traditional back-to-school nights, open houses, and parent-teacher conferences were important venues to communicate about students’ academic progress. The Latino families that took part in the study didn’t; they viewed educators as the experts and deferred the educational decisionmaking to them.

With that in mind, here are five ideas to help schools better connect with English-learner families:

1. Home-School Connections Help ELLs and Their Parents

A veteran principal in San Jose, Calif., used baked goods, weekly chats, and an open library policy to forge relationships with English-learner families. The story, part of an Education Week special report on English-learners, is available to read in English and Spanish.

2. To Help Language-Learners, Extend Aid to Their Families Too

A Center for American Progress report highlights how the Oakland, Calif., schools prioritized family engagement at school to help parents become better advocates for their children. Here’s a link to the report.

3. Report Offers State Leaders, Feds Advice to Improve ELL Education

States and districts should provide materials in the native languages of students and parents and offer adult ELL community education classes to help bridge language gaps, according to recommendations from the Education Commission of the States. Here’s a link to the report.

4. Ed. Dept. Toolkit Offers Guidance for English-Learner, Immigrant Parents

This resource from the U.S. Department of Education’s office of English-language acquisition offers guidance on how to enroll children in school and a look at how schools in the United States may differ from those in other countries. Here’s a link to the toolkit.

5. A Parent’s Campaign to Break Down Language Barriers for ELL Families (VIDEO)

When Teresa Garcia moved to suburban Seattle, she struggled to communicate with her children’s teachers, to help her children with homework assignments, and to understand the notes that came home in their backpacks. Garcia, who was still learning English, felt like she was failing her daughter, who needed specialized services. She set out on a campaign to ensure that other English-as-second-language families in the Federal Way, Wash., schools did not feel as hopeless as she once did.

Image Credit: U.S. Department of Education office of English language acquisition

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.