This year I am working in a new school, one in a wonderfully diverse population in downtown Ottawa. The ELL population is significant – around 45%. Over 20% of families in our area speak a language other than English or French. In many cases, the students have stronger language skills than their parents.
In 28 years of teaching, I have never worked in such an amazing community. The families don’t have much, and many live in difficult circumstances. Having said that, this community has a wealth of services that include the Somerset West Community Health Center, Social Rec Connect, the YMCA, a very busy community daycare and a whole host of services I haven’t figured out yet.
Our parents work hard. Our children are wonderful and appreciate everything we are able to do for them. We are heavily involved in a national campaign to build a better school yard and we are working hard to develop an integrated arts program and a makerspace.
So we are doing fine, but I think there is so much more to do. How can we find ways to get our parents more engaged in the life of the school?
It is common in lower income areas that parent engagement tends to be lower. There are all sorts of reasons for this. For one thing, our parents are incredibly busy working to keep their families afloat. Our information from EQAO shows us that the percentage of parents that read to their kids or work on the computer on learning programs is low. Parents say they don’t have internet or computers and language is certainly a barrier.
So, what do we do?
Educational Leadership devoted a whole issue to this challenge in May 2011. We have also found some really interesting programming in Hamilton-Wentworth called the Scholars Program. The Scholars Program sounds great, but there is very little written about it.
It is very good to read about other experiences before forging ahead. At this point, I really don’t have a definite idea on how to proceed, but what I have learned in my reading is that whatever program we put together has to be co-constructed with all stakeholders involved – the school board, Somerset West, Social Rec Connect, our school and most importantly, our parents.
This is how we will proceed. I have an idea on what programs we should be offering, but I could be totally wrong – we all need to hear from the parents. What do they need for themselves and their kids.
Then we can develop something special for our community!