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An Evening of Cultural Connections: Team CHEP Community Inquiry

An Evening of Cultural Connections

Presented by

Carolyn Duquette, Elizabeth Kosta, Holly Lavine, Paula Papanicolaou

On September 22nd, Amherst Street’s Team CHEP, representing the Gate City ELL Cohort, met with a group of ELL parents in the Media Center of Amherst Street School to discuss their experiences and perspectives on migration, acculturation, and education. Cummins advocates meetings to be held in the library rather than the classroom itself as a way to encourage parental participation and lower the affective filter that CLD parents may have with negative associations with their own schooling.

Prior to our conversation, we welcomed the families in the cafeteria with a light pizza dinner. Parents were asked to identify their country of origin using a push pin on a world map.

Countries represented were Brazil, Columbia, Cuba, Finland, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.

Countries represented were Brazil, Columbia, Cuba, Finland, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.

We began the conversation by asking parents to reflect on the question: “What does your child REALLY like about coming to school?” Some of the responses parents shared were: That their children felt a sense of community, love spending time with their friends, they have a strong sense of belonging, and their teachers are warm and welcoming.

The parents were then asked to share their experiences about what it was like when they went to school and their own acculturation and migration as well.

Insights into their own school experiences:

  • In Latin America, teachers have upwards of 30-35 students with no help so they are extremely strict (except in PR where they seem to have grown indifferent and are absent a lot).
  • In Latin America (except for PR) religion is taught in public schools.
  • In Latin America, you’re told that your teacher is your “mother at school”!
  • In Latin America, uniforms are worn to school.
  • In Colombia, teachers are known to be strict and even dictatorial.
  • In Colombia, you can be shamed publicly for not being prepared for class (no books or supplies)
  • In PR, SPED kids continue to be secluded even today…they are not treated well.
  • In Cuba, everyone is mixed together. No grade leveling or leveling at all by ability.
  • In the D.R., there is a reverence for teachers which this parent tries to instill in her children. She is disturbed by lack of reverence for teachers in U.S in general.
  • In Colombia, student achievement is prized and celebrated through student recognitions.
  • In Finland, formal schooling begins at 7 years old and kids only go to school 3 – 4 hours per day. Then in 3rd grade, they begin to attend for 6 hours per day. They do have small group instructional practices. Behavior is managed through SPED if became a classroom disruption. Teachers eat lunch with their students.

Following this discussion we then showed two ten minute videos of current teaching practices in the Nashua School District. We asked parents to focus on what the teacher was doing and how the students responded. Both videos represented first grade classrooms. One video depicted a math lesson, while the other showed a push in ELL model for a literacy lesson on writing an opinion. Some of the comments regarding the differences in schooling were:

  • No student or teacher would be sitting on the floor.
  • Everyone would be at a desk.
  • Each student knew what they were expected to do although the parents felt the classroom atmosphere was more chaotic than what they had recalled from their own experiences.
  • Parents felt that the teachers cared about their students.

Another question asked was: “What do you like/dislike about our school?”

Parents responded that they felt there was more individual attention to students, groupings varied, music in school (specialist times for all grades and concerts at middle school level), dignified integration of special education students, better transportation than Finland (no bussing there).

Some parents felt that kids are taunted for being different in our schools and others didn’t feel that way at all. The taunting was mostly around clothes and other social status symbols. There was an overwhelming consensus that we need to have school uniforms.

The a-ha moment was in reading Brisk and Drey and Wisneski as they summed up the importance of the school, home and community connection, in saying that “education is a community responsibility” (Brisk, Language, Culture and Identity, page 35). We learned the importance of working as a team with families and the communities. This gives time for the families to share/compare their family biographies with others as well as their own children.

An extension of this lesson is to have the students creating their own biographies and sharing with the class in a TPSI setting. This activity will be going from a partner share to a small group setting to the individual sharing to a whole group.

We would like to thank Delfina Berry for assisting with parental attendance, Karen Nichols, Nashua High School Student babysitters, and our wonderful PTO for providing our dinner. Cummins states “when educators and culturally diverse parents become genuine partners in children’s education, this partnership repudiates the myth that culturally diverse parents are apathetic and don’t care about their children’s education.” (Chapter 1, pg. 3-4).


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