The following strategies provide a roadmap for building family engagement among the families of English language learners (ELLs) in your school community.
Supporting immigrant families
For related ideas, see the following:
- Ten Strategies for Supporting Immigrant Students and Families
- How to Support Immigrant Students and Families: Strategies for Schools and Early Childhood Programs
19. Solicit ideas
A. What you need to know
A good place to begin developing a new approach to family engagement is by soliciting ideas from the school's ELL community - they know what they need. Remember, however, that no matter how many good ideas your teachers, parents, and students have, those ideas won't go very far without the support of the administration. The "idea well" will run dry if people feel that their ideas aren't welcomed by school leaders.
Is there currently an avenue for teachers, parents, and students to share ideas about family outreach ideas at your school? Who tends to come to you with ideas about engaging or supporting your ELL students and families? What steps can you take to start that conversation and let the community know that their ideas are welcome?
Ask for feedback from:
- Staff: Ask people across the school community what could be done to better engage ELL families. This includes ELL teachers, bilingual teachers, mainstream and content-area teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, counselors, the school nurse, cafeteria and custodial staff, and coaches. In what kinds of situations do they interact with ELL students and families? How could that interaction be improved?
- Parents: Get feedback on bilingual families' perceptions about the most burning needs for improving bilingual family involvement. This could be done through a survey about setting initial priorities and followed up with focus group conversations on selected topics. While it's not geared exclusively to ELL students, Beyond the Bake Sale, edited by Anne T. Henderson, Vivian Johnson, Karen L. Mapp, and Don Davies, offers a number of surveys as a starting point.
- Students: Don't forget to ask the students what they think - even the young ones! What information would really help their parents? What would make school events easier for their families to attend? How might their parents be able to contribute to the school? Since ELLs tend to have a lot of responsibility in their families, they often are unusually attuned to their parents' needs and strengths, as well as their own.
Once two or three priorities are set, the school can look at the resources available and think about how best to proceed in implementing these approaches. A small committee of staff members, parents, and students may also be helpful in designing an action plan.
- At an early childhood program that Farin A. Houk visited, parents are encouraged to share ideas for monthly parent nights during their first meeting of the school year. Program leaders ask parents to think about what information they would like to have, and families might request help with topics such as supporting learning at home or discipline.
20. Look for the funding
A. What you need to know
Perhaps the juices are starting to flow and you are excited, but you know that it will be tough to find the necessary resources for your ELLs in this budget climate. The good news is that, with creativity and effort, you can fit some of these strategies into your existing structures. More importantly though, as a school leader, you are in the position to make ELL family engagement a priority by allocating the resources, no matter how limited, needed to make it happen.
What sources of funding are you currently using for ELL family outreach? Are you familiar with Title I and Title III guidelines? Who offers local grants for family literacy and outreach?
- Find out how familiar your staff or district contacts are with Title I/Title III possibilities. If you need more information, get in touch with your district grants administrator or your statewide offices for ELLs and federal grants. (The names of these offices and positions may vary from one district to the next.)
- Look for grants targeted to ELL, minority, Latino, and at-risk students, with a special focus on family literacy, parent outreach, and science and math initiatives (such as STEM). Possible sources include local foundations and businesses, as well as larger national family literacy initiatives, such as Reading Is Fundamental or FirstBook. Verizon, Dollar General, Toyota, and Target also sponsor nationwide literacy initiatives. Lee & Low Books offers a list of literacy grants on their website.
- Look for volunteers such as ELL staff or parents with fundraising experience to search for grants.
- Consider pooling your resources with other schools in the district for family events and outreach initiatives. You may even be serving the same families who have children of different ages!
- As part of its mission, the Toyota Family Learning Program focuses on increasing "basic language and literacy skills among Hispanic and other immigrant families." According to the program website, Toyota has funded 256 family literacy sites in fifty states.