Support Latinx families with supportive and inclusive family engagement strategies.
The challenge of family engagement isn't unique to the Latinx community. There's work to be done to build stronger relationships with families from all backgrounds and in all communities. However, when working with Latinx families, there are ways to support them that consider the Latinx community's specific strengths and challenges.
Arcelia Gónzales, family engagement liaison for Oakland Unified School District in California says, "A successful family engagement program is the result of a school where educators, employees, and administrators adopt the culture of the families and work together to support the students at home and in the classroom." She advocates for being intentional about how we interact with families and striving to understand where they're coming from.
Latinx families are deeply committed to their children's education. For many immigrants, providing their children with a better education is one of the main reasons they decide to come to the U.S. and leave their home countries behind. Like other family values, this emphasis on education is passed down from one generation to the next, with second and third generation immigrant parents continuing to focus on giving their kids a better education than they received.
At the same time, Latinx parents may be juggling multiple jobs or need to take care of younger kids. They may not be used to the level of engagement that U.S. schools expect from them, or understand the impact that being involved and advocating for their kids can have. And on top of everything, parents who are undocumented may avoid going to schools for fear of ICE raids.
Successful parent liaisons and educators who work with Latinx families understand these unique strengths and challenges. And they design school family engagement programs that reflect the community's needs first.
Here are some ways you can partner with the Latinx families in your school community:
1. Create an environment that makes them feel at home.
Creating a nonjudgmental environment where families feel comfortable and part of the community is essential. Think about what families see and hear when they get to the school. Is anyone making them feel guilty about what they do or don't do? Is it clear that you are creating a space for them?
2. For events, have child care and food available.
Parents with younger kids, single parents, and immigrants who don't have any family members nearby to help can only attend events if they can bring their kids with them. In addition, especially when working with lower-income families, providing food is very important. If families don't have to make dinner, they're more likely to attend your parent night. Having food that they enjoy and makes them feel at home is a plus.
3. Always have Spanish resources available.
Even if many Latinx parents are bilingual or speak English only, many immigrants don't speak English well enough to fully understand what you are communicating or to feel comfortable talking to you. Whether it's a handout, a presentation, or simply a text message, make sure you always have well-written translations or interpreters available. If you have a large Spanish-speaking population in your school, consider inviting members of the school or guests who speak Spanish to present.
4. Recognize parents' achievements and contributions.
David Linhares, community school coordinator at the Hoover Family Center in Redwood City, California, says, "The simple fact of acknowledging the work that parents already do helps families feel like partners in their child's education. This leads to greater trust in the school and makes parents more open to engaging in school activities. Another simple way to do this is to recognize families with certificates or diplomas after parent workshops or in a parent volunteer group. This can instill a sense a pride around education and their relationship to their own educational abilities."
5. Use student events as a chance to connect.
Whether it's a play, a presentation, or a music concert, if kids are part of the activity, parents are more likely to attend. Take a few minutes before or after the event to connect with families, answer questions, and share important information. You can also send videos of the event afterward to connect with families on the communication platforms you use.
6. Empower the most involved parents and caregivers.
That parent or caregiver who is the first to volunteer, speaks at every meeting, and has an opinion on most things can be your best ally. Parent ambassadors can help you mobilize other parents and spread information. Their interest, energy, and understanding of the day-to-day life of their community can help you boost engagement and even get some of the work off your plate.
7. Celebrate Latinx culture in your classroom and school.
Go beyond Hispanic Heritage Month and celebrate Latinx people and culture year round. Whether it's culture-affirming class projects, the selection of books in the library, or special guests and school-wide events, teachers and administrators can strive to make choices that reflect, recognize, and celebrate the Latinx students and families they serve every day.
8. Engage parents and caregivers as community partners.
As Omar Escalera, principal of Robert Frost Elementary School in Pasco, Washington, explains, "Having the understanding that the traditional school setting was never designed with students of color in mind, it is my responsibility to create spaces that meet the academic, social, emotional, and cultural needs of [email protected] By having parents and students actively participate in the creation and planning of extracurricular activities, we create programs that are owned by the community and not by the school site. These are community programs that extend far beyond the reach of a traditional school setting."