Mis Padres: Educational Advocates
By: Dr. José Medina, Director of Dual Language and Bilingual Education, Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington, DC
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...