Families have long been important members of school communities. Typically the most successful schools have strong ties and communications with their students' families. In addition, the new charter law for New York, passed in May 2010 has several implications for charter schools and ELL students and families. Under the new law:
  • Charter schools must continue to show a good faith effort to attract and retain a comparable or greater enrollment of ELL students when compared with the enrollment numbers of ELL students in other schools in the same district;
  • Charter schools can now be terminated for repeated failure to comply with the requirement to meet or exceed these ELL enrollment and retention targets (unless this would be the only reason for termination and the charter school can show that it made extensive efforts to recruit and retain such students - such as outreach to families and parents in the community, widely publicizing the lottery, and efforts to academically support ELL students);
  • In their annual reports to the Board of Regents, charter schools must now include their efforts in the current school year, and their plan for the next school year, to meet and exceed ELL enrollment and retention targets; and
  • Applications for new charter schools must include the charter school's plan to meet or exceed ELL enrollment and retention targets.

Strategies for Supporting ELL Families and Communities

The question becomes, once you recruit ELL students, how do you successfully support them and their families? Some strategies for supporting ELL families include:
  • Be explicit with parents about the types of supports you are providing their students, and explain the academic benefits of placing their child in an ESL program. This will help parents understand the nature and structure of these supports, and not worry that their student is missing other important instruction.
  • Hire a bilingual parent coordinator or office staff member, or appoint a staffer, who can assist with family-school communications;
  • During the school year, send home written communication in English and the family's home language;
  • Offer skills-based workshops for a families at the school. Choose topics that have been identified by families as an area of need (help with reading homework, college readiness, etc.);
  • Reach out to local organizations that can provide translation services;
  • Immediately connect families with a contact person within the school whom they can contact with questions and concerns;
  • Establish phone trees so that ELL families can receive important information in their native language;
  • Consider making home visits throughout the year, or having at-home conferences instead of at-school conferences;
  • Regularly invite families to school to celebrate student work;
  • Set aside specific times during teachers' schedules for home-school communications (placing phone calls, writing notes, visiting with families);
  • Create a diverse panel of interested family members to help the school determine, from a family perspective, what family involvement could look like;
  • Provide multiple opportunities for families to give input to the school;
  • Engage families in a direct conversations about the possible differences between home culture and public school culture;
  • Share information collected about families' cultures and languages with all staff members;
  • Include parent representation on your school board;
  • Facilitate a school-sanctioned parent group that comes together to support and influence different school decisions;
  • Create groups of parents/family members who regularly meet with school staff to discuss various issues;
  • Provide professional development for teachers and staff on topics such as working with ELL families and information about the different cultures in your school community;
  • Create and support school-based parent volunteer programs; and
  • Create and support parent leadership opportunities.

Some Specific Things to Consider for Your ESL Program

  • After you have identified your ELL students, create letters for families that identify and explain student's ELL status. Have families sign the letter, indicating that they understand, and keep a copy on file at your school.
  • Once all your new ELLs have been identified, hold a family orientation where you:
    • Explain what ELL and ESL are;
    • Explain and introduce families to your school's ESL curriculum and personnel;
    • Have members of current ELL families in your school speak about their experience;
    • Devote a large portion of time to family questions, comments, and concerns;
    • Have a facilitator lead different groups (potentially organized by ethnicity or their role within the school) through an exercise where they identify their expectations for families, teachers/staff, and students; and
    • Provide translators and/or translated materials in families' home languages.

Additional Resources

Educating English Language Learners: Building Teacher Capacity - The National Clearing House For English Language Acquisition Rountable Report considers the initial and continuing education of pre-service and practicing teachers as they pertain to teaching students from diverse linguistic backgrounds. or available online at http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/files/uploads/3/EducatingELLsBuildingTeacherCapacityVol1.pdf.

Addressing Diversity in Schools: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy - This brief by the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems discusses how culturally responsive teaching can effectively address the instructional needs of diverse student populations. , or available at: http://www.niusileadscape.org/lc/Record/137?search_query=.

Building Collaboration Between Schools and Parents of English Language Learners: Transcending Barriers, Creating Opportunities - This brief by the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems discusses strategies for overcoming barriers to recruiting and supporting ELL families. , or available at: http://www.niusileadscape.org/lc/Record/580?search_query=.

ColorĂ­n Colorado has an archive of articles about parent involvement that is available at: http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/c44/.

Davis, C., & Yang, A. (2005). Parents & Teachers Working Together. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children. ISBN: 1-892989-15-8.

Our Children Our Schools - This report, written by Advocates for Children of New York, discusses the importance of involving immigrant families in our schools and offers strategies for how to do so. The report offers suggestions for how schools can:
  • Create welcoming schools;
  • Break down language and communication barriers;
  • Make schools more responsive to parents; and
  • Facilitate immigrant parent leadership in schools.
external image pdf.png Our Children Our Schools.pdf or available at: http://www.advocatesforchildren.org/reports.php