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How Can Local Schools Stop Intimidating Parents?

Flickr Photo/camknows (CC-BY-NC-ND)

In low income schools where parents might not speak English, it’s common for parents to not show up for meetings.

And it’s common for educators to throw up their hands and say, “Well, they must not care.”

But Ann Ishimaru, an assistant professor at the University of Washington’s Department of Education, says it’s time to stop saying, “Let’s fix the parent.”

“We find that when we talk to the parents, they don’t feel like they have meaningful opportunities to engage or influence what’s going on in the school,” Ishimaru said. Parent engagement is important, she noted, because it is connected to students doing well in school.

Ishimaru and her colleagues studied schools in South King County, where there are high numbers of immigrants.  

She said how parents talk to their kids about school is important – and also what she called racial socialization.

“We know from the research young people of color who have a strong sense of racial cultural identity tend to do well in school,” she said. “It’s related to academic success.”

Partnership between families and schools may bolster that identity. At some South King County schools, for example, meetings are held in Spanish, and the principals and teachers get the translations in English.

And principals should consider getting out from behind their desks.

“Principals can mean very well and say, ‘My door is open, come on in and see me any time,’ and ‘Well, that’s weird, no one comes and sees me,’” Ishimaru said. “That’s very intimidating, especially if you don’t speak English or are new to the American system.”

Some principals are rethinking how they engage parents. In Kent and Renton, schools are holding events outside of school. In Federal Way, programs take place at different apartment complexes where kids live.