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  • Writer's pictureImmigrant Connections

Breaking down the EL & Family Engagement Silos

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

Welcome to my new blog! If you’ve poked around my website or ever seen me present, you know that my #1 area of expertise is English Learner/immigrant family engagement in schools. This leads to my passion – bringing the English Learner (EL) and family engagement fields together!

Let me explain.

Over the past decade or so, the “family engagement in schools” field has grown tremendously. Some of you may be thinking “It’s a field?” Yes. What we used to call “parent involvement” is now broader and is typically referred to as “family engagement.” The field of family engagement has a number of national “players” such as the National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement (NAFSCE), state and national conferences, such as the one put on by the Institute for Educational Leadership, and its own theories and frameworks, such as Dr. Karen Mapp’s Dual Capacity-Building Framework. There’s over 40 years of research showing the positive impact of family engagement on students’ achievement and more and more educators are finally jumping on the bandwagon. In fact, many school districts now have point people and even whole departments dedicated to family and community engagement!

The Every Student Succeeds Act also strengthened requirements for family engagement and in particular, for English Learner families. This is important because in my experience, there are educators who are experts in family and community engagement, but lack the knowledge and training around connecting with immigrant and refugee families. In some respects, the strategies one uses to build relationships with any family work equally well with immigrant and refugee families. Yet, there are also a number of unique aspects to engaging immigrant families and communities.

For example, as a family engagement professional:

  • Are you aware of federal laws for interpretation and translation and how language access relates to equity for English Learners and their families?

  • Do you know how to communicate and build a relationship with a family through an interpreter? Or do you resort to what’s most comfortable, which is talking to the interpreter instead of the parent?

  • Do you understand that “parent involvement” and “family engagement” are thought of very differently in many countries around the world and that parents are likely operating under whatever the cultural norm is in their home country?

  • Do you understand the basic immigration statuses and what leads one to become a refugee, asylum seeker, undocumented, and so on? Do you understand the fear associated with leaving one’s country as well as the fear many have around government institutions and authorities?

  • Can you name the top five or ten countries of origin and home languages for your school or district?

  • Do you know what the “acculturation gap” is and how that impacts family engagement work?

Now, the reverse is also true. I’ve known many EL teachers who could answer all the questions above. Many EL teachers know all about the home languages, countries, and cultures of their students and their families. They may even have experience running EL/immigrant parent programs. Nevertheless, they are not always tapped into the family engagement field.

For example, as an EL teacher or expert:

  • Do you know what the Dual Capacity-Building Framework is? Or do you know what framework your district is using?

  • Are you aware of which family engagement programs and/or strategies are evidence based?

  • Are you aware of which family engagement strategies are most linked to student learning?

  • Are you aware of which family engagement strategies are most effective in each level (elementary, middle, and high)?

  • Are you aware of national or state organizations working in the family engagement field whose websites you could visit for more information? Or conferences you could attend?

Now you might be starting to see what I mean. In all of our school systems, we have “silos” and the family engagement and English Learner silos have been apart for too long. I will continue to pursue my passion of bringing the EL/immigrant and family engagement fields together and hope you will join me on this journey!

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