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Report: Immigrant parents feel shut out of schools

Hot on the heels of a DOE report saying that immigrant students are doing better than ever before, groups serving immigrant families issued a report of their own today, calling on the city Department of Education to “change the culture in schools” so that immigrant parents feel welcome participating in their children’s education.

Many immigrant parents would like to be involved in their children’s schools but do not feel able because of language barriers and cultural differences, according to the report, which was written by Advocates for Children of New York, where I used to work, in conjunction with a number of community groups that represent immigrants. The report calls for the DOE to develop an aggressive plan to involve immigrant families in their schools, citing research that has documented a link between parent engagement and student performance.

The premise behind the report — that parents should be involved in schools — is one that DOE officials say they support. Asked at Friday’s mayoral control hearing about parent participation among immigrant families, Maria Santos, who heads the department’s Office of ELLs, said there is “not enough.”

The report suggests a number of reasons why immigrant parents might not feel encouraged to get involved. Among them: Visitors have to produce identification to enter a school building, which could be frightening to some immigrants; too few personnel at individual schools speak parents’ native languages; and many volunteer and leadership opportunities require English language skills.

The report calls for a host of changes in individual schools and department policy, from holding PTA meetings in languages other than English to creating a “welcome packet” that would be given to families when they first enroll in a school. Many of the changes could be made without costing the city much, according to the report, simply by using some people and resources differently. Taken together, the changes would let the DOE “take a lead in the nationwide movement to strengthen family involvement in education,” the report concludes.

AFC’s report includes the second call in as many days for comprehensive action to support immigrant students. Yesterday, when I spoke with Deycy Avitia of the New York Immigration Coalition, she said improving academic performance among students classified as English language learners would require a “bold initiative” on the part of the DOE. “There are some boutique-style initiatives,” Avitia said. “We have these small programs, and they need to be taken to scale.”

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