"We have learned the importance of reaching out to families and listening to what parents and students say that they need," says Anne K. Swartz. "We have learned the importance of building relationships with families and holding high expectations for both the students and their families."
As the Hispanic enrollment at Guilford Elementary increased, Swartz, who is an assistant principal, and other staff members noted that the number of Hispanic families involved with school activities did not grow. In an effort to reach out to those families, the Columbia (Maryland) school held quarterly meetings for Hispanic parents. Its Hispanic liaison conducted the meetings in Spanish and used the opportunity to stress the importance of attending school events such as "Back-To-School Night," "Family Curriculum Nights," and parent-teacher conferences.
[content block] While the initial goal was to provide information for families, the meetings proved to be just as enlightening for the leaders of the school. Attendees expressed a desire to have newsletters and information translated into Spanish. Two parents currently translate the weekly newsletter and specific notices for the benefit of Spanish-speaking families.
"During those meetings, the parents also voiced a concern about helping their students complete homework," recalled Swartz. "That was the basis for forming the after school homework club."
Students were selected for the homework club based on academics and the need for homework support. Their parents granted permission for the children to participate and agreed to work closely with the Hispanic parent liaison to monitor academic progress and homework completion.
"One of the most positive outcomes of this program was the increased communication between home and school," Swartz reported. "Many of our Guilford teachers assisted with the homework club, and as parents picked up students, communication was able to occur on a regular basis with the constant presence and support of the Hispanic parent liaison."
News of the homework club spread to Conexiones, Inc., a Howard County non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the academic achievement and success of Hispanic students. The organization had traditionally worked with the county's high schools, and Guilford became the first elementary school to develop a formal partnership with it. A highlight of the program was having local high school students act as mentors and tutors for the elementary students during the homework club.
A state-funded grant allowed the program to expand in November 2007 to include after-school tutoring, homework support, and enrichment. With that grant, the program began to specifically target students who are working below grade level in math and/or reading.
"The after-school program now serves more of the broader population," says Swartz. "Our Hispanic families continue to be a strong presence in the program, and recent data taken from student report cards and academic data show that homework participation has improved markedly, with many students showing satisfactory to outstanding homework completion and solid gains in reading and math."
During the 2007-2008 school year, a former Guilford parent became the school's new Hispanic parent liaison, and she continued the tradition of meeting regularly with Hispanic families. The participation of those families in school events and conferences has broadened. For two years, the Hispanic families even prepared special ethnic foods from their Latino culture for the staff during Teacher Appreciation Week in May.
"It is their tradition to present a Happy Teacher Day event to educators to show their appreciation," added Swartz. "The parents and students also dance and sing for us. Our staff delights in this event and the bonds that are formed are priceless as our Latino families teach us about their culture, and we are grateful!"