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Construyendo Collaborative Relationships between Recently Arrived Salvadoran Parents and Educators


I recently attended the Multilingual Learner Conference put on by the Washington DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). My favorite presentation was “Construyendo Collaborative Relationships between Recently Arrived Salvadoran Parents and Educators” by Dr. Ingrid Colón. Dr. Colón is a researcher in the area of English learner education with the Education Policy program at an organization called New America. Furthermore, she herself is an immigrant from El Salvador, so I was particularly excited to hear her present.


In the summer of 2016, Dr. Colón carried out a qualitative study with recently arrived Salvadoran parents in Washington DC for her doctoral dissertation. Her research question was “What perspectives do recently arrived Salvadoran parents have about their children’s education in U.S. public schools?”


Dr. Colón interviewed six Salvadoran parents in DC. All six of her participants were recently arrived parents from El Salvador who had been in the U.S. for no longer than one year, were born and raised in El Salvador, and had biological children between the ages of 4 and 17 in DC Public Schools. She carried out these interviews in pupuserias in Washington DC. Yum! (Pupusas are a popular Salvadoran food and pupuserias are where they make and sell pupusas! If you’ve never tried one, you’re missing out!)


In the literature review chapter of her study, Dr. Colón talks about the absence of immigrant voices in schools and the need for their stories to be told and for their experiences to be acknowledged. She emphasizes that Latinx parents can teach us about the services their children need to succeed in U.S. schools. (To that I say hear hear!)


There were four main themes that emerged in the interviews, some of which could be further broken down:


1. Communication:

  • Building relationships: Some of the parents mentioned the importance of their children’s teachers meeting them in person to get to know them. It is very important for teachers to develop close relationships with parents.

  • Strengthening collaboration: Some of the parents interviewed suggested there be an orientation to school for them, not just their children. Many indicated having challenges due to the lack of communication about school policies and the expectations for parents and students.

2. Understanding:

  • The hardships of immigrating to the U.S.: Some of the parents interviewed shared that getting to the U.S. was not easy and that they have gone through experiences that are unimaginable for some people.

  • The hardships of learning English: Nearly all of the parents interviewed requested more patience and empathy from their children’s teachers. Furthermore, all of the participants suggested that teachers learn Spanish to better serve them in schools.

3. Counseling:

  • All the participants shared similar testimonios about the difficult situations they lived with in El Salvador, including violence, gangs, and extortions. All fled El Salvador to seek a safer life for their children. Some of the participants felt that therapy is needed not only for their children, but for the parents, too.

4. Information:

  • Resources for children: Participants expressed the importance of schools offering practical information to children, such as how to set goals to develop future aspirations and information on the negative aspects of joining gangs. Many of the parents noted that some of the gangs in El Salvador also are in DC.

  • Resources for parents: The parents interviewed talked about schools being places where they could access resources, such as information about housing or job opportunities.

Dr. Colón also asked a second research sub-question: “What educational practices do recently arrived Salvadoran parents describe doing at home to support their children’s learning, development, and achievement?”


She found that the parents who were interviewed saw their role as creating a support system at home so their children did not have to worry about anything other than school. All participants emphasized providing their children with the resources they need to facilitate their children’s learning, development, and achievement. Such resources included: food, housing, hygiene, a good learning environment, technology, attention, time, and positive role modeling.


Ultimately, Dr. Colón provided a number of recommendations:


Recommendations for Schools:

  • Counseling services for parents and students

  • Modifications of the dominant and mainstream European American culture model in schools

  • Create collaborative school spaces

  • Provide information (housing, jobs, etc.) they need to succeed in the U.S.

  • In-person meetings conducted in Spanish

  • Inclusion of parents’ expertise about their children’s education

  • Reach out to parents to build and sustain collaborative relationships

Recommendations for School Administrators:

  • Advocate for services that recently arrived Salvadoran students and families need

  • Be interested in learning about the unique needs of Salvadoran students/families in your school

  • Provide ample opportunities for recently arrived Salvadoran parents to voice their perspectives about what they want for their children’s education and by including them in the schools’ decision-making

  • Model a welcoming and inclusive environment in schools

Recommendations for Teachers:

  • Understand the obstacles of newly arrived immigrants in the U.S.

  • Alleviate the challenges that recently arrived parents and students experience in U.S. schools

  • Improve the communication with recently arrived Salvadoran parents

  • Find ways to communicate with parents in Spanish

  • Try to learn the Spanish language to better serve this community

  • Learn from recently arrived Salvadoran parents about their role in the education of their children and the educational practices they do at home

  • Include and recognize parents’ support at home


There is much more to this 169 page dissertation, but these are some of the key points. Overall, this study demonstrated that recently arrived Salvadoran parents are eager to share their opinions and to collaborate with educators and stakeholders. We have much to learn from our immigrant parents!

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