Published On: Mon, Jul 19th, 2010

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Ask Señora Lopez is a new column written by Señora Lopez, the author of "Latina-ish" The blog. You can also follow her on twitter @latinaish

Buen provecho…


Hello Señora

I work and live in a culturally diverse rural
community in Iowa.  Currently, I am an Educational Sign Language
Interpreter.  While working in the education field, I am finding that
educators are having a difficult time bridging the gap between our local
Latino and Anglo groups.  Our school district has many parent meetings
to get the Latino population involved, with interpreters available, but
very few show up.  At parent teacher conferences there is a low turn
out.  My question is, how does the Latino population feel about
education here in the United States?  In your opinion, what could we as
the Anglo population do to bridge these gaps?

Thank you Señora!

Señora Lopez responds:

of all, thank you for the work that you do and for caring enough to ask
this question. Encouraging parental involvement in their children's
education is one of the most frustrating things educators face. The
difference between a child with involved parents, and one without, is
tremendous, and it's often heartbreaking for teachers to see such a
discrepancy, to see the child's potential, but know that they're limited
in the impact they can make in that child's life since a teacher's time
and resources are already stretched thin.

The problem of
parental involvement is not unique to just Latinos, but the linguistic
and cultural barriers that often exist when children are first
generation Americans, can make a difficult situation even more

The Latino community is very diverse, so there
aren't any hard and fast truths. I will be speaking in generalizations,
with the understood warning that this may not apply to all situations
and families.

Having said that, generally speaking, there is a
misconception that Latino parents don't value education. Nothing could
be further from the truth. Most native Spanish speaking parents are
proud that their children are going to school in American schools and
learning English. The parents are also at times simultaneously
intimidated as they watch their children bring home text books and
homework they themselves can not understand. If parents are undocumented
this only deepens the problem as they may also be distrustful and wary
of any government institution. 

There are many tips out there
for educators looking to increase parental involvement, but here are a
few which will help you target parents who speak only Spanish.

Make a good first impression. Before the first day of school even
begins, touch base with the parents. Find out as much as you can about
their home situation without making them uncomfortable. (What language
is spoken at home? How many siblings does your student have? Are both
parents living in the home? Do they both work? Does someone work two or
even three jobs? What days/hours are best to contact them?) Don't forget
to ask them if they have questions for YOU. (Don't forget to SMILE!)

Make yourself accessible. Give them your E-mail address and multiple
phone numbers to reach you. Tell them they are always welcome in the
classroom and have activities throughout the year which you personally
invite them to. If the parents don't come to you – go to them! Tell them
you would like to speak with them about how great their child is doing,
and set up a home visit. If they seem uncomfortable with you coming to
their home – invite them to yours.

* Have materials that are sent
home, (such as a welcome letter at the beginning of the year),
translated to Spanish on the reverse side. Avoid using online
translators which are prone to mistakes, and use a real human to write
the translation for you if possible. Send home a weekly newsletter that
tells them what your class is learning about.

* Ask
administrators to consider free ESL classes held at the school in the
evenings and then let the parents know about the program.

Realize that even if materials are translated, you may run into another
problem – illiteracy. In this case, phone calls to the parent with the
help of a translator may work better. If the parent picks the child up
from school in person, try talking to them face-to-face.

* If no
translator is available at your school or he/she is already over-worked,
use the children! The children are bilingual and can assist you in
speaking with their parents. Just be aware that if you are trying to
deliver news about poor behavior or failing grades, kids are clever and
things may get "lost in translation" (wink wink.)

* Everyone
loves a compliment. Study the parent's native country with your students
and ask them to come in and share a story, tradition or food with the
class. You could even start an informal Spanish class and ask the parent
to come in once a week as a co-teacher.

* Use positive
reinforcement. Give recognition to parents who make an effort to
participate. Make them "Parent of the Week" and give them a reward, or
simply write a 'thank you' note and tell them how much their child has
benefited from their involvement.

* While attendance at PTA
meetings and parent-teacher conferences is desirable, don't admit defeat
if they don't show up. Try to connect to them outside of scheduled
events which they just may not be able to attend due to their work

* The Latino community is usually well connected –
especially the mothers of children at the same school. If one of the
parents speaks English better than the rest, ask her to serve as a
liaison to deliver messages to the others.

* Ask administrators
to put up a bulletin board in the lobby where both English and Spanish
announcements can be posted. Parents can read the announcements at their
leisure while waiting to pick up their child.

* If parents
are unable to help their child with homework due to language barriers,
ask if there is an older sibling at home that can be recruited, or
create an after school homework program where classmates can work
together as groups or as tutors.

In the end, it takes two to
tango. You can do everything in your power to encourage parent
involvement, but ultimately if they choose not to do their part, you
should not take that as a personal failure. At the same time, one should
avoid harsh judgment of the parent as we can not totally understand
their circumstances and what influenced their decision.

In this
case, you must do the best with what you have and work directly with the
child to encourage good behavior and work habits while providing them
as many resources as possible so that they can work towards a successful
school career despite the barriers. 

Do you have a tip to share, please leave a comment and share your tips with us.

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