I’m an education policy expert, but I know that the real experts when it comes to schools are parents. Recently, over 40 parents of public school children in Oregon met from across the state to discuss how to improve English language-learner (ELL) programs. As a community-based advocate, I was among those who helped get a bill passed by the Oregon legislature in 2015 mandating improvements on English language-learner programs through collaborating with local parent organizations. My role at the meeting, and that of other representatives from advocacy organizations who were there, was to emphasize the importance of parents engaging in the process and to support their involvement in the work.
But nothing we could have said made the point better than a story told by Maria Delgado, a parent at the meeting who also helped enact this new program. Maria is a first generation Mexican-American, and when her daughter was a freshman at Reynolds High School, she discovered—unbeknownst to her—her child was in an English language-learner program for
the last nine years. She stumbled upon this when she asked her daughter what classes she was taking, and saw mainly English language-learner classes—and very little in the way of college-prep classes—on her daughter’s schedule. Maria went immediately to the school and spoke directly with the principal. Although they discussed her desire that her daughter take college-prep classes and be removed from the English language-learner program, no change occurred. Maria persisted throughout the year. When each quarter’s class schedule came out, she saw those English language-learner classes on her daughter’s schedule, and would visit the the school to discuss removing her daughter from the program. She became increasingly frustrated and drew up a document stating that her daughter would be able take the core academic classes necessary to meet college entrance requirements, even if she stayed in the ELL program and asked the principal to sign it. Finally, the principal acquiesced and allowed Maria’s daughter to move into the college track.
Giving Families a Role
The faces of other parents in the room as they listened to Maria’s story made it clear that her story hit home for them. They nodded their heads, their eyes widened as Maria described her repeated visits to the principal. Then the chatter started, and one parent asked, “You mean you were able to get your daughter out of ELL? You just got the principal to agree?” It hadn’t been easy, but Maria showed the group that with a little determination, she got the school to pay attention to her. As the attendees broke into small groups to talk about ways parents might engage with their own districts, they felt anxiety about approaching administrators directly, but they expressed an energy that could be felt. Oregon’s bill giving school districts the opportunity to collaborate with parents on improving programs for English-language learners gives families a role in their children’s education. It also gives schools meaningful insight into what these families want. This new effort, which I’m proud to have been a part of, balances a strong state role with local needs. But the most important ingredient in this effort is parents themselves.
Iris Maria Chávez is an education advocate and communications consultant, currently working with national and Oregon focused organizations to advance equity by supporting the creation of just policies, engaging with communities and supporting communications efforts that better communities in Oregon and across the nation. Iris Maria has lived in Portland for just over a year and came to the ...