Kate Leonas, Lorna Spargo, Cynthia Pitkin, Cara Daras-Manning, and Bari Sherman
The Flexi-Five cohort community inquiry project took place on November 4, 2014. Flexi-Five partnered with the ESL department to provide assistance to ESL parents at Nashua High School South. The goal was to teach ESL parents how to access the parent portal, and build stronger communication between the school and ESL parents.
Flexi-five created an English and Spanish version of parent portal directions for accessing student information and made enough copies for each parent. A demo-parent access ID was used to demonstrate how to access the portal, on a computer and ESL parent’s phone (which is often the only electronic device they own). Concluding the demonstration, Flexi-Five asked several key questions about the ESL family’s experience with acculturation from their native culture to the American culture.
*NOTE: All answers are paraphrased; not exact quotes.
What do you think about Nashua High School South?
-Many people I work with say bad things about the school; they say it has problems, is no good. But my son is doing well here. He has not changed: he always loved to learn and cared about school. His teachers have no complaints; I have no complaints. I think it’s not the school; I think it is the students that don’t care that have problems.
-There are no complaints about the school.
-Good; has taken classes herself through adult program. Very positive.
-So far, it seems OK. My boy was very nervous to come here; but he was very happy when he came to his ESL class where others also did not know English. He is starting to make friends.
-My daughter went to an all-girls private school in Columbia, and she was making excellent progress there. They had to wear uniforms; they had a lot of homework. She likes school here, but I don’t see her doing any homework at all. And, with the boys here, she has seen some strange things happen at the school…
How is it the same or different from schools in your home country
-Actually, I don’t know, because my son finally came to live here with me when he was 14 years old. I only heard that he was doing OK in school (in El Salvador) from his mother.
-There is a big difference. The biggest one is in the organization of the school. Education in the Dominican Republic does not report absences. I like how the school (Nashua) does the automatic phone calls home when a student is absent. The D.R. also does not have a school calendar. They randomly will cancel school for a week or two when the district decides. When this happens, students will play outside of the day and go to neighbor’s houses if parents work. D.R. public school also do not have parent teacher conferences- only private school does. The universities are much better than the high schools. However, they are influenced by politics and have heavy police involvement.
-The schools in Cuba are very strict; like the army. They wear uniforms and the hair must be short for boys, etc.
-Schools in Mexico (she went to a private, all-girls school) make you work harder. She had so much homework…maybe even too much. But here, I see her playing on her iPad all afternoon.
-My daughter seems a little bored. I would like her to get used to the new school and different culture before she starts to join any clubs, though.
-The social environment and the academic demands are different. Here they are much more social.
Do you feel connected to the school and teachers? How is the communication?
-I feel no connection. I do not receive emails. I do not hear from most of the teachers.
-The parent feels connected to Claudia. He prefers that all communication is done through her. He has no problems with teacher emails, but likes it better when Claudia calls. Claudia will connect him to teachers when needed.
-Communication is poor. Claudia had helped a lot, but we don’t feel like the school does all it can to communicate to us.
-I prefer to speak Spanish; so I call Claudia if I have a question. I am excited to learn about how to check my child’s grades on the computer, thank you.
-I don’t feel very connected to the school. Claudia is the only contact I have.
What information is important to you?
-I want to know my son’s grades and attendance, and I want to get emails when he gets any grade below an 80%.
-How to check grades on X2. Wants a username and password to parent portal so he can automatically check grades and not wait until conference or report cards.
-I want to know about school events like open house and conferences far ahead of time, so I can schedule my work.
-Where can I find a copy of the school calendar? I’d like to know when to schedule our vacations so my child won’t miss so much school. I’m very happy I can get emails about my child’s grades.
The parents we met with had mixed opinions about Nashua High School South, but most of the answers to our questions were positive. The majority of the parents explained that Nashua High School was very different from schools in their home countries. Some parents paid for their students to attend private schools in their home countries because the public schools were “not good”. Some of the differences included students wearing uniforms and attending single-sex schools, having much more homework, and being very strict. The public schools in the Dominican Republic had no set schedules for taking time off; parents could not predict when the school would close for a week.
Parents didn’t feel there was anything wrong about U.S. schools, but worry about the lack of homework. They recognize Nashua South has a social environment. One parent was concerned about some of the “strange things” her daughter has talked about and seen, now that she is mixed in with boys. One father mentioned that people he works with say bad things about the school; but he doesn’t agree. His son is doing well, and is happy. The father is happy because he says he feels his son is safe at school, which wasn’t the case in their home country. He added that he thinks the difference between his son and the “other” students is that his son cares about school, and therefore he does well. Students who don’t care don’t do well.
We asked about the transition from living in their native country to living in Nashua, and how their students were acclimating to a new culture. Making friends and feeling comfortable in their new culture was a primary concern for newcomers. One boy was “very afraid” to come to school the first day, but then he was very surprised to find himself in a class full of other students who could not speak English (yet), and it made him happy. He is making friends.
The parents’ primary connection to the school is through their ESL teacher and the school’s interpreter. As parents arrived, they displayed respect for their child’s ESL teacher and the interpreter by greeting them with a kiss on each check. It is a cultural form of respect in their countries. The parents trust these individuals. Parents do not feel connected to their student’s other teachers; they have not had any communication with the teachers. Some parents have a greater connection to the school because they attend some night classes at the school.
The parents want a greater connection to the school community; they want access to their children’s grades and attendance records, and a strong connection with the teachers. Parents from different cultural backgrounds have the same desires for their children as non-ESL parents. The community inquiry to educate ESL parents how to use the parent portal has provided ESL parents with the tools to monitor their children’s grades and other school records, and to empower the parents to play a more active role in the school community. This was the first time that most of the parents were made aware that they could log on to check up on their child. Empowerment is a powerful tool; all of the parents were happy to be shown how to access grades and attendance for their children, and set up messages that report if grades dip below a desired level. The parents were excited to receive this information.
As a follow-up to the community inquiry, we will contact parents via email and send them their school ID and password for the parent portal. We were alarmed to find out that most parents had not even been assigned usernames and passwords; they were “blanks” in the system. The ESL department brought this discovery to the principal’s attention and the IT department is working on building the ESL parent portal access IDs. Why this oversight occurred, and whether it affects only our ELL families or more families, is being investigated.