(It is best to) provide a summary of information in the family's native language. Assume that families may have to be given information multiple times in multiple formats (orally, written, follow up) before they know what to do, as the system is unfamiliar.
– Educator response to a Colorín Colorado survey on how schools are supporting immigrant families
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Partnerships with the families of immigrant students and English language learners are critical to student success. In addition, schools are required to communicate with families in a language they understand. Here are some ideas for meeting those requirements, encouraging parent leadership, and building a greater network of support with community organizations.
Learn more about partnering with ELL and immigrant families during the COVID-19 pandemic below.
Create different channels for communication in families' languages
Help families keep emergency contact information updated
Learn why it is critical to help ELL and immigrant families keep their emergency contact information updated and how to do so.
Why this matters
School districts are legally obligated to share information in a language that families understand. Families may also need information in different formats to understand it, especially if they have lower levels of literacy. By learning more about how families prefer to communicate, administrators can allocate resources and staff time more effectively.
In addition, it is critical to provide forms and documents in families' home languages to the extent possible, such as registration forms, home language surveys, and emergency contact forms. Keep in mind that the U.S. educational system will be new to families and they may have lots of questions on top of their questions about complex issues related to immigration.
Note: This is especially critical when it comes to questions of special education evaluation, services, or Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).
Tips for getting started
Work with parent liaisons to determine how best to provide translated information and if your families prefer to communicate through:
- in-person conversation
- written handouts
- telephone hotlines or automated phone calls
- text messages
- social media
- video-streaming events
- partnerships with local community groups such as a house of worship
Posting information online
Posting translated information online increases families' access to resources from their own home. When you find out families' preferred methods of contact, you can find out how easily families can access information online and let them know where internet access is available.
Note: Providing a link to an online translator is not sufficient, as machine translators often mistranslate educational or context-specific words and phrases.
- Communicating with ELL Families During COVID-19: 8 Strategies for Schools (Colorín Colorado)
- Communicating with ELL parents (Engaging ELL Families Guide)
- Resources and Information for Immigrant Families (Californians Together)
- Fact Sheet: Information for Limited English Proficient Parents and for Schools and School Districts that Communicate with Them – available in English | Other languages (U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice, shared via Colorín Colorado)
Video: Building parent relationships built on trust
Revisit school data about immigrant students
Why this matters
Looking at student data can help identify patterns or experiences that may be affecting your families. While it is important not to make assumptions or ask for any information related to immigration status, the better you know your families, the better you'll be able to address their concerns. You may also find some patterns that surprise you, as in the case of this Illinois high school who realized that many immigrant students needed significant support in applying for college.
Tips for getting started
- Revisit student data and talk with the staff who work with immigrant students to make sure you know who your immigrant students are, always protecting student privacy.
- Remember that immigrant students may have diverse backgrounds/education levels.
- You may wish to ask the following questions when you look at your data:
◦ What trends and commonalities are there within the different families?
◦ Do families represent different world regions, religions, and languages?
◦ How about educational backgrounds?
◦ Are there particular issues impacting families that need to be addressed?
It is also worthwhile to take a look at your state immigrant/ELL population. You can get started with the following data sources, as well as the immigration data resources in our introduction:
- A Snapshot of Immigrants in California (Public Policy Institute of California)
- State Immigration Fact Sheets (American Immigration Council)
- English Learners by States: Demographics, Outcomes, and State Accountability Policies (Migration Policy Institute)
- A Guide to Finding and Understanding English Learner Data (Migration Policy Institute)
Finally, avoid making assumptions about what kinds of issues and challenges families are facing based on their background, country of origin, or languages spoken. For example, the DREAMer population is a diverse group; while the majority of DACA recipients are from Mexico and other Latin American countries, The Washington Post reports that tens of thousands of DACA recipients also come from countries such as South Korea, the Philippines, India, Jamaica, Tobago, Poland, and Pakistan. A significant number of DACA recipients are also high school students. (Read more in our section on the diversity among undocumented immigrants.)
Encourage family leadership
Why this matters
Families can be tremendous allies and ambassadors for their community when given the chance. They also can provide helpful input on how to effectively meet other families' needs or address concerns. Principal Nathaniel Provencio says that one result of the uncertainty facing his families is that they are taking on more leadership roles in the school community.
Tips for getting started
- Ask families what their questions and concerns are.
- Form an advisory group of families to discuss these issues. Ask them to identify priorities and then draft recommendations for teachers, administrators or other leaders.
- Invite families to school board meetings and encourage them to speak. Be sure to remind school districts to have interpreters available and encourage families to use them.
- Take their input seriously, and don't ask for it until you are prepared to listen. It may be challenging at first, but well worth the learning curve.
- Encouraging Parent and Family Leadership (ELL Family Engagement Guide)
- Parent Empowerment and Leadership Development (Californians Together)
- Serving on Groups That Make Decisions: A Guide for Families (Bilingual guidebook)
- Promising Partnership Practices Toolkit (Johns Hopkins University)
- Promising Partnership Practices in Colorado (CO Department of Education)
- Four Stages of Immigrant Parent Involvement by Young-Chan Han (Maryland State Department of Education)
- Supporting Newcomer Students and Parent Civic Engagement in the Schools (BRYCS)
- Building Partnerships with Immigrant Parents (Educational Leadership)
- Partnering with Parents and Families to Support Immigrant and Refugee Children at School (Center for Health and Health Care in Schools)
- Rethinking Parent Involvement: Perspectives of Immigrant and Refugee Parents (Bank Street College of Education)
- Building Bridges, Not Walls, Between Latinx Immigrant Parents and Schools (Bank Street College of Education)
Video: Immigrant parents are rising to meet new challenges
Video Interview: Iveth Monterrosa, PTA President of Wolfe Street Academy in Baltimore, MD
Create partnerships with community organizations
Why this matters
Beyond addressing questions of basic needs, other community partners that represent your families can be valuable allies, such as organizations with ties to local immigrants, houses of worship, and businesses. These organizations can help provide:
- unique insights on challenges families are facing
- skill sets and programs targeted to particular communities
- a network of resources ready to help
- practical support around issues such as addressing immigrant students' basic needs and connecting families with legal services
- volunteers who are ready to provide an important supporting role.
The role of libraries
Libraries can also play an important role in supporting immigrant families, as seen in these examples:
- this article from School Library Journal about school librarian outreach and support for immigrant students
- the Hennepin County Library, which launched a campaign titled All Are Welcome Here
- the Boston Public Library, which has been working with schools to provide citizenship classes.
In addition, you can read about an innovative early literacy program designed to welcome immigrant families in the report Building Safe Community Spaces for Immigrant Families, One Library at a Time.
Around the country, many schools are adopting the community school strategy, which develops partnerships in order to provide additional supports that can help students succeed. Learn more from our community school resource page, as well as our video project about how community schools can support ELL/immigrant families at Wolfe Street Academy in Baltimore, Maryland.
Tips for getting started
- Create an asset map of valuable partners, opportunities, and resources in your community.
- Talks with colleagues about which existing partnerships are working and new partnerships that make sense to pursue on behalf of your families.
- Look for partners that can provide students with enrichment experiences.
- Connect with other community leaders, such as faith leaders, non-profit leaders, political leaders, or business owners who wish to express their support for local immigrant communities. There may be ways to have a broader impact through partnerships and find solutions to local challenges (see the video below about Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon and his community work in his hometown of Hazleton, PA).
- As you bring people together, have some examples available of what other communities are doing.
- Don't hesitate to turn down partnerships that aren't beneficial or appropriate for your community. For example, Principal Mark Gaither at Wolfe Street Community School shared with us that he has turned down partnerships that were not going to yield worthwhile results for his students and looked for more suitable options.
- Strategy: Engage ELL families through community partnerships (ELL Family Engagement Guide)
- Working with Community Organizations on Behalf of ELLs
- Community Schools: A Strategy for Success (Resource page from Colorín Colorado)
- After a hate crime, a town welcomes immigrants into its schools (The Hechinger Report)
- Joe Maddon and the Hazleton Integration Project (NBC News Production, via Reimagining Migration website)
Video: How a Community School Helps ELLs Succeed
Video: Identify your resources and allies
Video playlist: How community schools support ELL/immigrant families
Parent engagement toolkits
A number of organizations have published toolkits focused on culturally responsive parent engagement with diverse families. Here are some of the highlights!
- Engaging ELL Families: 20 Strategies for School Leaders (Colorín Colorado)
- Handbook on Family and Community Engagement (School Community Network)
- Family Engagement Toolkit: Continuous Improvement Through an Equity Lens (California Department of Education)
- Family Engagement Tools: Editable Templates (California Department of Education)
- Organizing Family and Community Connections with Schools: How Do Schools Build Meaningful Relationships with All Stakeholders? (National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools)
- Toolkit of Resources for Engaging Families and the Community as Partners in Education (REL Pacific)
- Community and Family Toolkit: Engaging the Families of English Learners in Classrooms, Schools, and Communities (TESOL Press)
- Establishing Partnerships with Families (U.S. Department of Education Newcomer Toolkit)
See our complete reference list for works cited in this article.
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