Every day after classes, Elie encourages his three school-age children to take a break before they “go back to their books.” Elie wants his children to be diligent about their studies. “Children should love their books because their books are their future,” he says. When he and his children visited their new school after switching districts, the staff knew them by name, confirmed their registration and the teachers socialized with them. Parent access within schools is a critical part of student wellbeing, meaning these small gestures have the ability to invite parents into the conversation about their children’s future.
Elie looks forward to seeing what his sons do after they graduate. He hopes that they might become lawyers or doctors, but more than that he would like them to be “what they would like to be.” He hopes they will become good people, help themselves, and help the nation—even help people around the world. He wants them to thrive in school so they have a chance to reach these goals.
Parents’ ability to communicate with schools remains vital to their children’s ability to flourish in their classes. Elie says that as a parent, he feels it’s important for him to be an example to his children and sit with them as they learn. Studies also reveal that students thrive, receiving higher grades and test scores when their parents are also involved. Parents, like Elie, are invested in their children’s academic success at home and are working to stay connected with teachers, even when challenges and barriers are presented.
Parents from refugee and immigrant backgrounds face unique barriers, such as language access, to contributing to their children’s schools. This may exacerbate difficulties faced in parent access. Flavia, a mother of two young children, notes that she considers herself fortunate knowing what happens in her children’s school life since she speaks English. According to her, not all parents from refugee backgrounds are heard. “If you cannot talk to someone, you cannot ask for support,” Flavia observes.
The benefits of increased access go both ways. Lacking access, parents cannot fully share their skills and perspectives while the schools also miss out. Flavia, for example, went directly to the administration to speak on behalf of after-school volunteers who needed to utilize Google classroom but could not without permission.
While the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City’s education team works alongside parents and students to increase collaboration with their schools, parents deserve the direct access that English-speaking parents receive. Thankfully, there are school districts that proactively engage with parents, calling with interpreters and remaining aware of other common obstacles that may thwart meaningful engagement. Ayak, who has children as young as 6th grade and as old as 12th grade, says that she hears from her children’s schools often. The school calls with an interpreter, and Ayak feels that the teachers take her input into consideration. They also provide additional ESL support for her daughter on Fridays.
As seen with Ayak, Utah has a powerful commitment to supporting family engagement, recognizing parents as a child’s first teacher, and has the opportunity to act on this promise for multilingual families. As refugees and all new arrivals to the United States build homes in Utah, schools are a major way that families first interact with their communities. How inviting we are as a community is impacted by how schools take parents from refugee backgrounds into their consideration.
Students thrive in school in part because of the collaboration between parents and their schools. This begins when we recognize how rich and nuanced our communities are and rethink how we include one another.
You can add to this rich fabric by becoming a volunteer, increasing our capacity to better serve refugee families in Salt Lake County. Learn more at Rescue.org/VolunteerSLC.