Immigrant Parents' Involvement in School Activities: Essay

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According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Mexican-Americans are the most rapidly growing population group in the country. The majority of these people are families: parents and school-aged children. It has been shown that ELLs can be expected to have a higher GPA as well as higher test scores when their parents take on an active role in their education (Altschul, 2011). For this reason, teachers of Mexican ELLs need to know how to encourage parents of Mexican ELLs to participate in school activities. The term 'ELL' refers to students who are currently learning English as a non-native language and are more often than not from another country. The term 'Mexican ELL parents' refers to the Spanish-speaking parents of ELLs from Mexico. Finally, school activities include or refer to things such as parent-teacher conferences, science nights, and other after-hours school-sponsored functions. This paper will answer the question, 'What are the four best ways to encourage parents of Mexican ELLs to participate in school activities?'.

Parent’s Understanding of School

Joint Parent-Student Tutoring

When surveyed by Wall & Musetti about the challenges that Latino ELLs face, a community liaison explained that parents of Mexican ELLs wish to be more aware of what their children are being taught at school, as well as the methods that teachers are using to teach their children (Wall & Musetti, 2018). This means that not only do parents want to know the content their children are being taught at school, but they want to understand the tools and strategies that teachers are using with the content. Parents wish to have the knowledge and tools to assist their students with homework and expressed frustration at not being able to do so. Homework is often a challenging task for children, but it is especially challenging for children who do not understand English and cannot go to their parents for help. One way this issue can be combatted is through joint parent-student tutoring. Joint parent-student tutoring would function similarly to normal tutoring, the only difference being that the teacher is also working with the parent, teaching them the same content as the child, as well as how to work with the child on the content (Wall &Musetti, 2018). Joint tutoring allows parents to understand the content their children are learning and gives them the ability to work with their children at home.

Parental Education in the School System

Additionally, parents of ELLs that come from Mexico do not understand how the American school system works. Mexican ELL parents expressed concerns about not knowing how to speak in school, or the, often unwritten, rules that parents and students are expected to abide by at school (Wall & Musetti, 2018). For example, the difference between elementary, middle, or high school, what age matches up with what grade, or how to contact their child’s teacher. This lack of understanding prevents them from taking an active role in the school. Once parents understand how schools work and function, they are more comfortable and able to become involved in said system. It is also crucial that Spanish-speaking parents have the resources to understand what is going on at their child’s school, just as any other parent would. The most common way schools communicate with parents is through writing, however, this is often a serious issue for Spanish-speaking parents as parents cannot be expected to understand school announcements that they cannot read. For this reason, announcements like flyers, emails, and important documents should always be made available in Spanish. This allows Mexican ELL parents to stay up-to-date and educated on what is going on at their child’s school (Alexander, Larzelere & Cox, 2017). By increasing a parent’s knowledge of the school, parents are allowed to become more involved in their ELLs’ academic lives.

Newcomer Programs

The term 'newcomer' refers to a person who has recently immigrated from another country. More specifically for this paper, a newcomer would have recently arrived from Mexico, speaks only Spanish, and is either a school-aged child or parent. When newcomers come to America, they often have no idea how our schools or culture work. This again serves as a barrier, preventing them from becoming involved. However, when these people are provided with educational programs that teach about American culture, such as holidays and traditions, as well as basic English, they feel much more supported by their child’s school (Wall & Musetti, 2018). Newcomer parents and students should also be given a guided tour of the school, where they meet teachers and administrators and learn how the school’s daily schedule works (Wall & Musetti, 2018). This, in turn, leads to their children having a much easier transition period (Cairo, Blackman & Joyner, 2012). Children feel safer and more welcomed and go into their new school with more of an open mind. On the other hand, when Mexican immigrant parents report feeling unwanted and unwelcome by their child’s school, their children end up having lower GPAs after their first year (Alexander, Larzelere & Cox, 2017).

Newcomer Program Planning

When these newcomer programs were implemented, it was found that a few factors can either raise or lower attendance. When planning newcomer programs, it is again important to keep cultural factors in mind. Programs and the topics they cover also need to be laid out in a way that does not make newcomers feel looked down upon. Instead, a balance needs to be struck between being educational and being condescending. The point is not to say, “Your culture is wrong, and this is what you need to be doing instead”. Rather, the programs should show families how to adjust to their new country and school while keeping their own culture intact (Gaitan, 2012). The goal of newcomer programs in the past leaned towards Americanizing people, which has been shown to push parents away from the school even more (Gaitan, 2012). Newcomer programs should be done as close to the school as possible, preferably within walking distance. They should also be free or at least very low cost. Lastly, they should be done outside of normal working hours and should not take up too much time (Cairo, Blackman & Joyner, 2012). These programs are often a few nights towards the end of the summer, in preparation for the upcoming school year. It is important to remember that immigration is expensive and often forces people to give up resources like cars while they take on multiple jobs to support their families. By keeping these factors in mind, more newcomers will have access to these programs. Lastly, when these programs end, participants should be assigned some sort of support system or group made up of other past and current newcomers. This gives newcomers someone to go to with questions or for support during their first year. When people feel supported their confidence increases, and an increase in confidence directly leads to a higher chance of a person becoming involved in the school community.

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Community Liaisons

Adding onto the idea of a support system for newcomer parents from Mexico, schools should implement a community liaison program between schools and newcomer parents. Preferably, liaisons would be people who have been newcomers before and understand what these people are going through. They should also understand how the school works and what parents need to know for them and their children to be successful. The job of a community liaison would be to initiate communication between schools and families and serve as a support system for the needs of parents. They would be available to answer questions and help with the communication barrier between parents and teachers who speak different languages.

Emotional Support of Mexican ELL Parents

Community liaisons should also feel comfortable and able to support the mental well-being of Mexican immigrants during a typically difficult time. This program should encourage a sense of community and belonging. Feelings of belonging also increase confidence, which in turn increases the likelihood that Mexican ELL parents will take a more active role in the school community (Gaitan, 2012). Language struggles also have a large effect on the mental well-being of Mexican ELL parents, especially in predominately white areas. Because Mexican immigrants do not speak the common language, they often struggle to make friends and become lonely (Gilbert, Mistry & Brown, 2017). Community liaisons will speak the language and will give Mexican ELL parents another adult to talk to. It is also important to keep in mind that Mexican immigrants often face extreme stress and high depression rates (Gilbert, Mistry & Brown, 2017). These things impede their ability to support their child, not only in academics but mentally and physically as well. When parents are stressed out, their children become anxious and unfocused, causing them to have trouble succeeding in school. Community liaisons would support the mental well-being of immigrants, allowing parents to support the mental well-being of their children (Gilbert, Mistry & Brown, 2017). When people come to America from Mexico, they leave their community, family, and friends behind. People feel empowered when they’re part of a group, and when Mexican immigrant parents form a community, they will feel empowered to become part of the school community.

Teacher’s Understanding of Cultural Norms

Mexican Culture Regarding Education

Another way to encourage the involvement of Mexican ELL parents is through teacher education. Culturally responsive teachers do not expect that parents, nor students, will change their culture to fit in with the culture of the school or area in which the school is (Gaitan, 2012). For this reason, teachers must have an understanding of Mexican culture, especially as it regards attitudes towards education and educators. For starters, Mexican immigrant parents often grew up with a rough childhood, and lack of education and resources, and want better for their kids. This causes them to have high expectations for their children and a strong desire for their children to reach academic success and build a future for themselves (Goldsmith & Kurpius, 2018). However, these expectations are not shown as they would usually be by American parents, through constant grade-checking and contact with the teacher. Rather, Mexican parents often hold a belief that a strong involvement at school belittles and disrespects their child’s teacher (Goldsmith & Kurpius, 2018). They believe that a teacher is a well-trained professional who can be trusted with all aspects of a child’s educational needs. For this reason, Mexican parents do not tend to check their children’s grades or check in with the teacher as regularly. Again, this is not because they do not care, but because they trust that the teacher is handling it. Overall, Mexican parents see their job as providing their children with the basic necessities (food, shelter, etc.) and getting them to school, while actual education falls entirely on the school (Goldsmith & Kurpius, 2018).

Importance of Teacher’s Understanding of Culture

When a teacher understands the cultural norms behind a parent’s actions, it is much easier to accept those actions for what they are, as a sign of respect and trust for the teacher. The teacher can also use this knowledge to encourage parental involvement in a way that keeps cultural norms in mind and ensures that the parent will feel comfortable. Educators have a responsibility to create a classroom culture, which should be a culture of respect and love for the various backgrounds students come from. In order to do this, a teacher must have an understanding of their own culture and how that culture affects their views on education. A deficit teacher will see a parent’s lack of involvement as a sign of a parent not caring enough about their child. A good teacher will educate themselves and seek to understand, in turn welcoming parents of all backgrounds into their classroom. This, in turn, will encourage parents to become more involved in school activities.

Conclusion

While it is true that Mexican immigrant parents of ELLs have lower school-involvement rates, this is not due to a lack of caring. Rather, this is due to cultural or SES factors, language barriers, or feelings of being unwanted by the school. This paper has shown that schools need to support immigrant parents, both mentally and with resources, and welcome them with open arms in order to help their children succeed. School communication, culturally responsive teachers, and community support all increase how active of a role Mexican ELL parents take in their child’s school activities. Without actively involved parents, Mexican ELLs are less likely to succeed in academics. Now that there is an understanding of how to best encourage parents of Mexican ELLs to participate in schools, there needs to be a focus on the best ways to support Mexican ELL children to participate further in school activities. Once these two things are put together, school communities will be richer and more successful.

References

  1. Alexander, J. D., Cox, R. B., Behnke, A., & Larzelere, R. E. (2017). Is All Parental 'Noninvolvement' Equal? Barriers to Involvement and Their Relationship to Latino Academic Achievement. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 39(2), 169–179.
  2. Altschul, I. (2011). Parental Involvement and the Academic Achievement of Mexican American Youths: What Kinds of Involvement in Youths’ Education Matter Most? Social Work Research, 35(3), 159–170.
  3. Cairo, A., Sumney, D., Blackman, J., & Joyner, K. (2012). F. A. C. E. Time (Families and Communities Educating). Multicultural Education, 19(2), 55–58.
  4. Gaitan, C. (2012). Culture, Literacy, and Power. In Family–Community–School–Relationships. Theory into Practice, 51(4), 305–311.
  5. Gilbert, L. R., Spears Brown, C., & Mistry, R. S. (2017). Latino Immigrant Parents’ Financial Stress, Depression, and Academic Involvement Predicting Child Academic Success. Psychology in the Schools, 54(9), 1202–1215.
  6. Goldsmith, J. S., & Kurpius, S. E. R. (2018). Fostering the Academic Success of Their Children: Voices of Mexican Immigrant Parents. Journal of Educational Research, 111(5), 564–573.
  7. Wall, C. R. G., & Musetti, B. B. (2018). Beyond Teaching English: Embracing a Holistic Approach to Supporting English Learner Students and Their Families. CATESOL Journal, 30(2), 1–17.
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Immigrant Parents’ Involvement in School Activities: Essay. (2023, December 08). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 20, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/immigrant-parents-involvement-in-school-activities-essay/
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