Families

Families & Communities

Research states that home involvement with children's schools supports their achievement (Epstein, 1995). Family involvement takes distinct forms for different communities, due to varied understandings of the roles that families play in school and the expectation for "involvement" as understood by school staff. Since other family members and individuals in communities often engage with schools on behalf of children, we recognize the need to expand the discussion beyond "parent" involvement.

Research also demonstrates that schools benefit from families' funds of knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff & Gonzalez, 1992). Therefore, it is important to forge relationships between families and teachers in their children's schools (Valdes, 1996). The following information presents a basis for building family/teacher relationships by presenting facts and resources that educators of diverse learners need to know in order to promote communication between home and school.

This exploration of family and community in education will focus on selected equity issues that influence family access to schools:

  1. Knowledge about schools
  2. Culture
  3. Language
  4. Social status in the larger community

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1. Knowledge About Schools

WHAT

Families and communities have different perspectives on involvement in their children's schools. Different understandings of school exist across cultures.

WHY

  1. Prior knowledge and expectations about schools
  2. Various levels of educational background and experience
  3. Confusion about roles in school involvement
  4. Lack of information about school, programs, policies and regulations

HOW

  1. Explore families' assumptions about schools:
    • Identify and interview cultural informants within various ethnic communities
    • Assemble a cultural library, which includes background material on education in various cultural communities, for teachers in each school
    • Convene parent focus groups to explore beliefs about education
    • Locate community-based organizations and groups in order to facilitate communication and new understanding
  2. Initiate contact with families/community members:
    • Talk to parents about their educational experiences
    • Attend community meetings/events
    • Find out the issues/concerns of families
    • Educate families/community about school systems
    • Read/learn more about diverse groups' cultural practices with respect to education
  3. Clarify roles:
    • Initiate culturally appropriate parent/teacher conferences
    • Translate materials to explain about parent roles
    • Engage an interpreter to assist with communication
    • Create an appropriate monthly calendar to be sent home detailing homework assignments
    • Open up dialogue between home and school through an appropriately formatted journal (e.g., a photo journal, pages with graphic organizers for checkmarks, and samples of student work) for teachers and families to comment on students' progress
  4. Generate ongoing partnerships:
    • Conduct an open house in each classroom to explain programs, policies and regulations to parents in their native language
    • Create a monthly newsletter for parents to explain each program in detail
    • Develop a website/newsletter highlighting special events in class

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2. Culture

WHAT

Culture influences family and school. Exploring and understanding culture will help enhance teaching methods.

WHY

  1. Benefits of connecting students' home and school lives
  2. Cultural expectations
  3. Cultural bias
  4. Gender differences
  5. Intergenerational differences

HOW

  1. Increase knowledge about cultures:
    • Participate in community activities
    • Invite cultural informants to your school to discuss their culture
    • Take part in diversity training
    • Explore each culture by participating in multicultural activities in your school
    • Convene small group of students to discuss cultural differences
    • Utilize parents and community leaders to participate in your lessons
    • Create newsletter/website for families
    • Contact families informally on a regular basis
    • Encourage and invite parents to be part of classroom activities
    • Send students' work home with comments to show progress
  2. Interview selected cultural informants to understand cultural expectations of school
  3. Learn about other cultures
    • Attend workshops offered by ethnic community-based organizations to learn more about particular ethnic groups
    • Take part in professional development in school
    • Learn from cultural informants, students, colleagues, parents and community leaders
  4. Explore cultural perspectives regarding gender
    • Participate in activities and workshops to have a better understanding of the issues
    • Work with school counselors to convene focus groups that discuss gender differences
    • Learn different expectations about gender differences for various ethnic groups
  5. Encourage interaction among generations
    • Connect elders and young people together through programs and activities
    • Foster a tutorial program for parents where they come once a week to work with students
    • Collaborate with parents to translate popular book(s) in their native language during a culminating cultural event

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3. Language

WHAT

Language affects families, communities, and schools, when individuals attempt to forge relationships with each other and collaborate, but do not communicate in the same languages.

WHY

  1. Multiple languages in students' homes and community organizations
  2. Language acquisition
  3. Linguistic differences

HOW

  1. Provide translation strategies
    • Initiate interpretation and translation of materials for appropriate groups
    • Convene focus group in native language
    • Communicate in native language when appropriate
  2. Offer practical opportunities to encourage language acquisition
    • Offer conversational group projects among students
    • Give opportunities for students to make presentations in class
    • Encourage peer-reading with students from lower grades
  3. Address the differences in languages
    • Offer professional development to learn more about linguistic differences
    • Involve families in thematic units teaching sounds of common or frequently used words

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4. Social Status in the Larger Community

WHAT

Social status affects family and community access to schools.

WHY

  1. Equal access
  2. Community awareness/participation in community

HOW

  1. Ensure that everyone may participate in decisions
    • Invite and encourage community to be part of discussion or decision-making in schools (Cibulka & Kritek, 1996)
    • Include representatives from respective communities in the recruitment of personnel for schools
    • Provide family and community with opportunities and voice in the schools (U.S. Department of Education, 1994)
  2. Recognize community
    • Employ qualified community members to enrich cultural awareness
    • Invite community members for input on issues about schools
    • Acknowledge and discuss important cultural events
    • Celebrate significant dates and events in students' culture
    • Attend cultural community events

References:

 Cibulka, J. G., & Kritek, W. J. (Eds.). (1996). Coordination among schools, families and communities: Prospects for educational reform.Albany: State University of New York Press.

Epstein, J. (1995). School/family/community partnerships: Caring for the children we share. Phi Delta Kappan, 76, 701-712.

Moll, L.C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory Into Practice, 31 (2), 132-141.

 U. S. Department of Education. (1994). Strong families, strong schools: Building community partnerships for learning. A research base for family involvement in learning. Washington, DC: Author.

Valdes, G. (1996). Con respeto: Bridging distances between culturally diverse families and schools. New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia University.