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Karla Suzanne Barte

© 2001

Action Research

Creating a Bond and Enhancing Relationships With Parents and Teachers of Non-Native English Language Learners (ELL): A Collaborative Effort

What I Already Know
I have just completed my first year of teaching at Osseo Senior High School. While I have learned many, many things--both good and not so good--one of the most nagging issues throughout the year was the void of parent-teacher interaction. We tried things such as offering a free dinner during conferences and transportation to and from school; with mild success. The most successful parent conference turn-out was about 10-15% of all ELL parents.

I realize this is not a problem unique only to ELL teachers, although I believe there are more obstacles in the way when it comes to involving parents of non-native English students. Most of my parents are refugees, newly settled in our community. These people are working several jobs, may not have a grasp of the English language, have different cultural beliefs regarding schooling and their involvement, just to name a few barriers. I have found that making the mistake that parents aren't there because they don't want to be is ridiculous. What parent doesn't have an interest in the success of their children? Most of my families are here in the states exactly for that reason. A greater opportunity for a prosperous and healthy life.

Why Am I Interested in This?
As a teacher, I have been trained to know the extreme value of good parent-teacher relationships. These relationships are the cornerstone to a successful and meaningful education. Many of my students are unaware of how much they have to offer both in the schools and the community. These students (and parents) are a fantastic resource. As any parent, these newcomers want their children to flourish and succeed in school. If we design a more involved relationship between parents, schools, and communities we could build a fantastic bond, strengthening the pride in our ELL students.

What I Want to Know?
How do I do this? How can we as teachers, work with and make connections with these parents? How do I get them to come to school when they work three or four jobs? Most importantly, how do we all work together to empower the parents to be their own advocates?

Plan for the Coming Year
My plan is to implement at least three creative ways to involve ELL parents in school. We will have three ELL teachers in our school this year (1.8 last year) which will also allow for more involvement. My goal is to know all of the parents. If this means home visits so be it. My students know they can come to me for almost anything; I want the parents to feel the same way. The success or failure of the project will be easy to assess. If I have more involvement and interaction than I did last year I will consider that in itself a small victory. The ideas that are successful can then be polished, revamped, and used again. I hope through this process to attain my goal.

Annotated Bibliography
Action Council on Minority Education (1990). “Education That Works: An action plan for the Education of Minorities.” Cambridge, MA: MIT Quality Education for Minority Project.
An action plan used to bolster the education of ELL students with parent involvement.

Dornbush, S.M., & Ritter P.L. (Winter 1988). “Parents of High School Students: A Neglected Resource.” Educational Horizons.
An excellent resource of ways to involve parents within the school.

Kang, H., Kuehn, P., & Herrell, A. “The Hmong Literacy Project: Parents Working To Preserve the Past and Ensure the Future.” The Journal of Educational Issue of Language Minority Students, V.16, Summer 1996.
A study conducted San Diego, California; many great ideas to involve the Hmong community within the schools.

Ochoa, Alberto M., Hurtado J., Espinosa, R, & Zachman J. (1987). “The Empowerment of All Students: A Framework for the Prevention of School Dropouts.” San Diego: Institute for Cultural Pluralism, SDSU.
How using and involving parents can have a dramatic effect in preventing dropouts.

Ochoa, Alberto M. “Investing in the Future of Youth: Parent Training.” The Journal of Educational Issue of Language Minority Students, V. 16, Summer 1996 [link no longer works].
This article explains how it is possible to train and involve parents within the schools.


Creative Writing

There You Were

I had no idea you were right under my nose. I crisscrossed the world unconsciously looking for someone just like you--and there you were, so close I missed you. Our lives were like a length of fabric whose interwoven threads were yards away from one another.

"It's all in the timing," people say.

We met, yet years went by before we really met. My impression of you: suburban frat boy, white bread. Just not as exotic or exciting enough for me. Or what I thought I needed?

There you were on Christmas Eve. My sister, friends and I celebrating the holiday and having a lovely time. Little did I know you were checking out the black skirt with the slit I was wearing. I was leaving for Paris the next day, you for Florida.

"Hey, would you like to go out sometime when we get back from our trips?" you asked.

"Sure, here's my card, call me at home or at work," not really thinking of anything past my impending adventures in Paris. New Years Eve with my Parisian friends? It would be marvelous.

Yes, Paris was marvelous. But was it meant to be? My on again off again minor romance fed only by a long trip across the seas or ridiculously expensive phone calls at crazy hours throughout the day. How long could this really last? With my return to the cold, dark reality of Minnesota in January, I was depressed. What could I look forward to now?

The phone rang. "Hello?"

"Hi, is this Karla?"


"This is Tom..." Dead silence stilled the line. "...Uh--Tom from Christmas Eve?" Again a brief pause.

"Oh yes--how are you?" I asked. The stilted conversation continued until the date was set. I can't say I was excited but, what did I have to lose? I hadn't had a real date for how long?

You picked me up at Amber's house. When I opened the door you were wearing an enormous smile, your handsome white teeth sparkling like a toothpaste commercial. Your hair was damp and perfectly placed. You immediately wrapped your arms around me giving me a gentle yet firm hug. You also told me how great I looked. We were off to a good start.

I was not aware of it at the time, but the feelings I had just a few short days before, generated from my trip to Paris, were melting away and a new excitement was taking root.

The rest is history. Three years later I sit here with a gorgeous ring on my hand wondering what the future will bring. Why did it take us so long to connect?

"It's all in the timing," people say.