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Thursday, February 22, 2024

How do we get our immigrant parents involved in school?

By Yvette Sanchez

Special to CSMS Magazine

 The subject of parental involvement has always been an important one, even in the most critical and academic venues of the world. James P. Corner and Norris M. Haynes from Yale University concede that parents can bring their insights and expertise that will add to that of the school staffs in manners that can empower both academic and social programs. However, the authors caution that in order for parental involvement to produce tangible results, it must “be part of a contextually focused school improvement process” aimed at creating cordial relationships that foster children’s cognitive development. On the other hand, the authors continue, institutionalized, parental programs clotted in bureaucratic and rigid school environments are less likely to achieve the desired end. 

            I work at a school located in an urban center, not far from downtown Jacksonville. Besides its heavily traditional urbanites, the school is the perfect truism for what can be described as a United Nations—transcending race, culture and ethnicity. It has a sizable immigrant population, which makes it suitable for an ESOL center. Thanks to its impeccable leadership, which lobbied the School Board, and its geographic position, academically advanced programs have found their ways inside the classrooms.            

            Because my school is one of the few inner city schools with academically advanced programs, parental and community involvements are more prevalent than many other schools in the district.  Adding to this luck is the multicultural atmosphere and the open-door policy advocated by the principal and others that ultimately catapulted such genuine interest from parents to get involved.

            Experts believe that every parent has a sincere interest in seeing his/her child succeed in school. It has not been scientifically proven that inner city children are genetically inferior to those of their suburban counterparts. The sharp difference lies beneath one word: Opportunity. Human intelligence is the most important natural resource a country can have. If this assertion holds true, why are there so many analphabet and illiterate children in the world? This brings us back to the same circle: Opportunity. A mind is a terrible thing to waste. However, here in America and perhaps in many corners of the world, what is keeping the academic gap from narrowing is what needs to be done that has not yet been done, and involving parents into the struggle can sharply help reverse the trend. Banks (2005) tells us that for parental involvement to produce positive results, it must be part of a collaborative structure. In other words, parents must participate at all levels of school life: from active support for school educational programs (most importantly, parents can play a major role in extra curricula activities) to in-school planning and management.

 The demographic picture also has a lot to do with parental involvement. In some Caribbean countries, economically deprived parents heavily count on their children and children’s education to lift them from misery to poverty with dignity. So, making sacrifices to make sure their children receive a decent education is something of strategic importance. Through their children, they see themselves as being economically empowered at some point in the future. Migrating to America, the interest is there, but it has been lowered a bit. Although, immigrant parents highly value education, but daily struggles for economic empowerment or opportunities leave little room for their genuine involvement at school. Adding to this dilemma is the cultural misunderstanding that too often results into misinterpretation of what they should know as concerned parents to help their children in need, thereby fueling an unwelcome mistrust between them and school officials.

On the hand, middle class parents, multicultural or otherwise, participate in a more proactive way in the educational process of their children. The reason for this sharp contrast is due to the fact that many of the parents who are suburbanites are upper middle class and educated individuals.  They understand and value their children’s education very much and many of them are professionals that have the time to invest in the schooling and afterschool activities that foster self discipline, motivation, achievement and success.  Parent Teacher Conference Night and Open House are true indicators of this observation.  In my school, I teach ELL students, and a teacher in the classroom next door to me teaches the Academically Advanced science class.  On these nights when families are invited to meet with the teachers, there are long lines outside her door while my room remains empty for most of the night.  It saddens me to watch my empty classroom, but it also enlightens me as to why my students are not as successful in many ways as the other students that have their families’ academic support.  Without this assistance from home, I believe I will always have a bigger challenge than my colleagues do in the classroom. 

Ways to involve culturally diverse parents

 A multicultural curriculum that takes into account the experience of each ethnic group in the United States and that includes origins and immigration, shared culture, values, symbols, ethnic identity and a sense of peoplehood will go a long way in attracting the interests of both parents and students. This will create confidences within parents and convince them to work together with school staffs to establish academic and social goals and to develop and implement comprehensive school plans. However, this might work better for immigrant parents with an already educational background and the financial support to sustain long hours working at school as volunteers.    
            One of the ways that I believe we can improve parental involvement in the classroom is to create community outreach programs for parents lacking literacy skills. Community schools could be used to speed up parents’ second language acquisition, so they will be much more helpful to their children at home. School officials must create cultural awareness programs that value multiculturalism. This will help our multicultural parents see themselves as valued and integral parts of the community, and its success depends on them. They will no longer see themselves as outsiders.

            To realize our short term goal, there are some things school administrators could do to get parents involved. Making sure that families get notices home in their native languages is important. Reaching out to families with translators and be persistent about maintaining communication with all families is also important.  I think after school events that include families of all cultures and ethnic groups should be supported by the school district.

            Finally, quarterly parent-teacher conferences would be a “MUST.” It will keep parents updated on their children’s academic progress or lack thereof. It will also create a natural bond between parents and teachers—an important element in the educational process. 


Banks, J. A. (2005). Teaching Strategies for Ethnic Studies.  (7e). Prentice Hall.

Corner, J. P. and Haynes, N. M. (1998). Parental Involvement: A research study. Yale University Press.  

Day, F.A. (1999). Multicultural voices in contemporary literature. A resource for teachers (1st ed.)

Also see Cultural Identity: the stages one needs to understand 

Be aware of intercultural communication 

Intercultural principles: A closer look

Creating culture diversity

Make our society a better place

What we need to teach our ESOL students about Nonverbal communication

Indian Culture: Vibrant and thought-provoking

Role of alternative languages in our society

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