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IEC Holds Parent Engagement Workshop

By Jackie Bong-Wright

Parent Engagement Helps Students, Families and Schools

Education is a Confucian value that Asian families revere. Motivated by their parents, most Asian children seem to excel in school. Even refugee and immigrant students who come to the U.S. with no basic English skills climb to the top of the class. However, the majority of immigrant parents from different ethnic backgrounds, including Asians, are reluctant to be active in PTAs or school activities. Is this due to lack of English to communicate with school officials; or reverence for teachers who are regarded as role models who replace the parents during the school day; or fear of an “authority” entity?
Studies published by the National Committee for Citizens in Education in 1994 indicated that “when schools work together with families to support learning, children tend to succeed not just in school, but throughout life.” It went further to document the benefits for students, “1) higher grades and test scores, 2) better attendance and more homework done, 3) fewer placements in special education, 4) more positive attitudes and behavior, 4) higher graduation rates, and 5) greater enrollment in post-secondary education.” The studies found that families benefit when parents develop more confidence in the school, and schools that work well with families have “1) improved teacher morale, 2) higher ratings of teachers by parents,
more support from families, 3) higher student achievement, and 4) better reputations in the community.

IEC Engaging Immigrant Families

Aware of the obvious ripple effect when parents are involved in their children’s school, the Immigrant Empowerment Council (IEC) took the lead in convening a one-day learning exchange workshop on November 16 at the Josephine Butler Center in Washington, D.C. IEC’s mission is to strengthen the capacity of immigrant community leaders to participate effectively in civic affairs that affect the quality of their lives and to make institutions, systems, and the community-at-large more inclusive and responsive to all immigrants. This learning exchange is being offered as part of the IEC’s civic engagement program activities.
Rosa Bricero, Chair of the IEC Education Committee, along with board members coordinated the event. Over 30 invited participants representing community-based organizations, immigrant groups, parents’ organizations and school programs actively reaching out to immigrant parents in their children’s schooling in the Washington area attended the workshop.
Participants were divided into small groups to discuss four basic roles that parents play as teachers, supporters, advocates, and decision-makers. According to the studies, parents as teachers create a home environment that promotes learning, reinforces what is being taught at school, and develops the values and life skills children need to become responsible adults. As supporters, parents contribute their knowledge and skills to the school, enriching the curriculum, and providing extra services and support to students. As advocates, parents help children negotiate the system and receive fair treatment, and work to make the system more responsive to all families. As decision-makers, parents serve on advisory councils, curriculum committees, and management teams, participating in joint problem-solving at every level.
The goals of the learning exchange are to build a network of immigrant organizations and groups working on parent engagement in schools in the Washington area, to enhance mutual understanding and awareness among immigrant leaders and school representatives regarding issues and challenges related to parent engagement, and finally to raise the capacity of immigrant organizations working on parent engagement in schools through information exchange, collaboration and other forms of support.
At the end of the workshop, Ernest Skinner, IEC President, announced that IEC would award mini-grants to support three local organizations led by immigrants that wish to increase the participation of immigrant families in their children’s schooling.