We focused on National Hispanic Heritage Month as the initial way to connect with students and families and convey that we value diverse representation in our district. It was also about building comfort and being our authentic selves. By bringing families together through their students, our hope was to seed relationships and a sense of belonging that we could build upon.
We had seen that ELL (English Language Learner) parents were not involved in the school and we wanted to change that. Often, they felt uncomfortable coming to school to just talk about academics. This event was organized to bring together families, teachers, the principal and other families in a relaxed, low-barrier way. We learned that our parents DO want to be in the building and our fun, open door event made that easier. We invited all ELL families across the district with the hope to build relationships among families from different backgrounds.
To encourage participation on event night, ELL students worked with teachers to create invitations to their families, including extended family members and another student and their family as guests. They also took responsibility for the decorations. The evening featured a meal and learning a fun dance. Interpreters were on hand and participation by the basketball team and teachers all made for a festive, memorable night.
Growth has resulted from lessons learned. In the spring, still with a focus on ELL families, our next meet-up was in the community, at a movie. Both for families and the school staff, this conveyed that not everything must happen at the school. There were two good reasons for this decision. We wanted families to feel welcomed at a community place (which had gained permission for Spanish subtitles). We also wanted to bring the staff into the community, where they might not be as comfortable. Leveling the playing field is something we have learned is helpful. The administrative staff all attended. A focus on academics was in the game plan, too, and books relevant to the movie were provided for the families. In these ways, each new experience has been instructive for all of us.
It’s important to involve the community. We used all local businesses for food at the Hispanic Heritage celebration. It was important for the ELL families to see that the school was working with local businesses that they visit. We also learned to purposely plan with all stakeholders in mind. We can't just plan what we think people will like. We worked with the Latino community to make it happen..