Mis Padres: Educational Advocates
When providing dual language services to schools and school districts, I sometimes hear educators make comments regarding the lack of parent participation in school activities. At times, the negative feedback is about a particular group of families. Often, the families referenced are not of the dominant culture and have a home language other than English.
Mis padres, Margarita and José Luis, recent immigrants to this country who did not speak English, had a traumatic entry into the American school system, as the parents of a son who also did not speak English and who refused to stay in school. I was that child, and along with mi Mamá y mi Papá, endured the most subtractive of experiences (see: Joe: My Personal English Learner Story) as I entered a school system that focused on transitioning me quickly to el inglés. Although their own personal educational access only allowed them an elementary education from México, my parents have always believed in education and the power it has to eradicate all obstacles.
Margarita and José Luis have always been educational advocates, even if some did not immediately recognize it!
Although dual language education is the most additive of educational program models, as practitioners in this area, we often forget, or are not aware, that such negative commentary about the families and communities we serve, is really a reflection on us.
What have we done to ensure that all stakeholders feel welcome, safe, and are valued from the moment they enter the school building? What do our families hear and see when they enter the office? How are they greeted and in what language? Does the office fully understand and promote the three pillars of dual language education (see: Qué? You Don’t Know The 3 Pillars of Dual Language?)? Have we provided information to all parents, including report cards, in a language that they can read and/or understand? Are the parent meetings we hold, in both program languages? Do we ensure that families whose first language is not English, are a part of the school community leadership? When we plan math and literacy nights, do we model linguistic and cultural equity?
Margarita and José Luis trabajaron in textile factories from their late teens to provide for us. Gilberto, Vanessa, and I are the luckiest of children because our parents fought arduously to ensure that we would have the educational access that they did not have. They believed in the teachers and administrators that served us and never questioned that through hard work and dedication, we would be able to make the most of the oportunidades granted to us. But, because of work, Margarita and José Luis rarely had the time to make it to events like Coffee with the Principal, PTA/PTO meetings, academic nights, and parent conferences. They were never able to bake cookies and pass them out during teacher appreciation week. I wonder…what would we have said, as educators, about them in the teachers’ lounge? Might we have wondered if they truly valued la educación?
Continue reading to find out more about José’s parents…
They believed in the teachers and administrators that served us and never questioned that through hard work and dedication, we would be able to make the most of the oportunidades granted to us.
In the Guiding Principles for Dual Language Education: Third Edition, Strand 6 focuses specifically on serving families and communities as part of dual language education. One of the important reminders for us, is to serve families from an asset-based perspective. Just like most educators are good people, most parents too, value education and want their children to be academically successful. We must not allow our bias towards those that parent differently, that value education through a different lens, to keep us from serving wholeheartedly those families that look to us to create educational access for the children they drop off at school each day.
Some strategies that can further strengthen a dual language program, delineated in the resource cited, include:
- Understanding that all families have many strengths to help their children
- Providing a welcoming environment, including hiring bilingual front office staff
- Implementing culturally and linguistically responsive services
- Being flexible when scheduling school events and conferences
- Providing adult education programs including English language classes
- Showing respect for parents’ cultural and linguistic practices and customs
- Translating materials and information into both program languages
- Helping families to support their children’s development at home, including the strengthening of the native language
As a teacher, assistant principal, principal, district leader, and now as a dual language leader serving at the Center for Applied Linguistics, I have had the opportunity to learn alongside some of the smartest educational advocates in the world. But, I am biased. In my opinion, among the greatest, mi Mamá y mi Papá, stand above them all. Both Margarita and José Luis are recently retired, having worked non-stop since they were teenagers. Several years back, my spouse and I decided that my awesome parents deserved to see the world! And so, those two young teenagers seeking a brighter future, now in their sixties and who still don’t fully speak English, have now traveled more than most!
Recently, I traveled back to my home town of El Paso, Tejas, to attend my nephew’s wedding. My parents, as always, were so excited to see me and love me – because they are ¡FABULOSOS! I arrived early and on a school day. So, together, we went to pick up my nieces Briyana and Alyssa from school.
It was such a treat to see my parents, now enjoying this well-deserved opportunity, to provide for my sobrinas the things that escaped them as parents. Margarita and José Luis, now help my brother Gilberto and my sister-in-law Anna with Alyssa and Briyana. They attend academic nights, go to school to have lunch with my nieces, help them with their homework, take them to little league baseball practice, and on occasion, even attend parent conferences with Gilberto and Anna. It gives me the greatest joy! You see, Margarita and José Luis have always been educational advocates, even if some did not immediately recognize it!
We must not allow our bias towards those that parent differently, that value education through a different lens, to keep us from serving wholeheartedly those families that look to us to create educational access for the children they drop off at school each day.