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How I Handled...

Communicating With Parents
Of Our Growing
Non-English-Speaking
Student Population

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If your school is anything like mine, you have seen an increase in the number of non-English-speaking students. The growing ESOL population brought with it an increased difficulty communicating with parents of those students. We came up with a plan to help deal with this issue.

The Problem:

Many schools are experiencing a spike in their enrollment of non-English-speaking students. A surge in ESOL student enrollments is often accompanied by increased difficulty in communicating about school-related matters with parents of those students.

The Solution:

Hiring paid interpreters can be an expensive proposition, so we came up with an alternate plan for improving communication -- in writing or by email, over the phone, and face-to-face -- with non-English speaking parents of our immigrant students. We decided to develop our own database of people who speak a second language. That database would include staff members and parents as well as people from the wider community.

The first thing we did was to send out a letter to our parent community. The letter explained our need for interpreters. We also posted an announcement in our school newsletter. The response was overwhelming. Parents signed up to serve as interpreters; they also spread the word so we ended up getting calls from people throughout the community who would be willing to serve in that capacity.

Now we are able to meet the needs of most of our parents in their native tongue. We use our interpreters at parent-teacher conferences, Academic Improvement Plan and IEP meetings, PTO meetings, and special events. We also call on them to translate letters to parents and to interpret or translate phone calls. The school nurse has access to interpreters for communicating about school-wide health concerns and emergencies. The interpreters are also assisting in our GED program; they are helping adults to earn their high school diplomas.

A large number of the interpreters in our database are willing to assist us as unpaid volunteers.

The Reflection:

Our database includes people who speak Albanian, Armenian, French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and a number of Middle Eastern languages. Of course, many languages include dialects; when we found that our Chinese interpreter could not speak Mandarin Chinese, that interpreter was able to put us in touch with a person who worked at a local Chinese restaurant who was fluent in Mandarin. Today, our database includes more than 35 interpreters.

About the How I Handled... Team of Principal Problem Solvers
The How I Handled series is intended to be practical resource for all principals and principals-to-be. Each week, members of Education World's How I Handled team share how they solved actual problems relating to school leadership, parent involvement, professional development, and a host of other "principal" responsibilities. How I Handled team members are anonymous; in that way, they can share freely the range of issues/problems they are called on to solve each day.


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