Program Gives Parents Confidence to Bolster Their Kids' Success in Georgia

by Darryl Ewing
Published in SEDL Letter Volume XVll, Number 1, June 2005, Reaching Our Reading Goals

"Pregúnteles a sus hijos sobre lo que han leído," a mother writes on the overhead projector transparency as other parents, almost all Hispanic, look on at Woodward Elementary School in DeKalb County, Georgia. The phrase is a strategy parents can use to help their kids improve reading comprehension skills. Translated the phrase means: "Ask your children about what they have read."

A little more than a year ago, SEDL began working with Woodward on an English Language Learners (ELL) program. The program is led by SEDL's Southeast Comprehensive Assistance Center (SECAC) and brings together about 60 Hispanic parents for monthly workshops to help them better help their kids in school. The challenge is more difficult because many of the families have come to Georgia from other countries—Mexico, Central and South America, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico—and they do not speak English. SECAC's work at Woodward and other schools in the Southeast supports SEDL's work under No Child Left Behind, and it expands SEDL's reach into Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia.

"This kind of instruction is very challenging and many of the schools in the Southeast don't have teachers who are prepared to meet the needs of these immigrant families," says Dr. Marie Kaigler, program manager for SECAC. "We help teachers acquire necessary skills through professional development and technical assistance. We also work with the parents and families, in their native language, to help bridge the language gap."

"My greatest challenge is to motivate parents to believe that they can make a difference," says SEDL program associate Maggie Rivas, who facilitates the ELL workshops.

For example, Rivas helps parents grasp reading comprehension by referring to popular Latin daytime dramas. In Spanish, she asks parents to identify the main characters, story theme, and conflict. Once the parents understand that these elements also are present in the books their children read, they can ask their kids to identify characters or the plot in their school reading.

"The kids start to think, 'Hey, my parents are interested in me and how I perform in school,'" Rivas says.

Attendance in the ELL workshops has remained around 60 parents, with many of the families coming back for additional workshops. Some of the parents have gotten to know each other through the workshops and others have grown interested in becoming more involved in the school.

"Maggie's work has had a profound impact on the community and my staff," says Clarence Montgomery Jr., principal at Woodward Elementary. "She's helping to bring together the home and school connection. It is my belief that until we get into the home to make learning important, we're not going to see the results in school that we want to see."

Photo of a man and girl with a stack of books.

Darryl Ewing is the head of e-Strat Communications based in Austin, Texas, and a lecturer in the Department of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a former reporter and desk supervisor for the Associated Press.

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