Engaging Families, Ensuring Education Success: A Back-to-School Tour with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

In Springdale, Arkansas, the Hispanic population grew by more than 150 percent between 2000 and 2011, largely driven by the arrival of mostly Hispanic immigrants. The school district’s public school population is now 44 percent Hispanic, and its English Learner population is also 44 percent of students. The city has done a remarkable job of embracing their newest community members and ensuring that all students and families are supported.

As part of ED’s Back-to-School Bus Tour, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH) visited Springdale to learn about the city’s community integration efforts. For the visit, WHIEEH collaborated with the Cisneros Center for New Americans, an organization that works to accelerate the integration of new Americans into American society. One stop was at an early childhood center where newly enrolled families pose for portraits that are placed in the classroom, to help ease the child’s transition and alleviate separation anxiety. Coffee sessions between new and veteran parents help familiarize families with the center and the community.

Another stop included the Turnbow Elementary School family literacy program where parents attend English language classes and scheduled PAC or “Parent and Child” time, in which parents join their children in class. They also learn about other subjects, including safety and financial assistance, from community partners such as the police and fire departments and local banks.

A mother described the program’s impact on her and her daughter: “When I signed up for this program, I saw my daughter with a huge smile, so I know it really mattered to her that I was in it,” she said.

At the Language Academy at Har-Ber High School, newly arrived students write their aspirations on classroom walls. These not only remind students to work hard, but they also provide instructors with daily reminders of their own role in helping all students reach their full potential.

The Academy has served to support integration into the larger community.

“The Language Academy helped me communicate with other people,” one student said. “At first, I didn’t know the basics …and now I’m in a regular class. I know all the things that the teacher tells me, and how they teach me and help me so much.”

A town hall for leaders from throughout the community provided context for the school district’s work. Superintendent Jim Rollins provided an overview of the district’s comprehensive efforts and a panel of experts discussed best practices on immigrant integration.

“Education is the great equalizer – quality education is accessible to immigrant families in Springdale,” said Professor William Schwab, University of Arkansas.

Throughout the tour, it was evident that efforts to break down language barriers and motivate students to succeed in and out of the classroom are making a difference.

Springdale’s family engagement and integration vision and efforts were recognized in aRace to the Top-District grant award in 2013. The program helps localities develop plans to personalize and improve student learning, increase educational opportunities, and provide resources that lead to a high-quality learning experience.

The program has enabled Springdale to provide 100 additional preschool slots to the community’s children and draw up plans to expand their family literacy program to each of their 30 schools.

The commitment to immigrant integration through family engagement is in the soul of the Springdale community. Superintendent Rollins put it best: “Those are the kind of things that can happen when you embrace children and help them find their true potential and promise.”

Emmanuel Caudillo is a Special Advisor for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Hispanic Education Along the Texas Border

On September 4th, The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative) began the Texas Back-to-School Tour in south and west Texas. After 9 stops in 7 cities over 3 days, the Initiative connected with students, parents, educators, administrators and community leaders, heard inspiring stories and saw first-hand the great work being done at the local level. The town hall sessions, roundtable discussions and site visits held in Corpus Christi, Brownsville, McAllen, Edinburg, Laredo, Eagle Pass, and El Paso, highlighted the value of and need for continued investments in quality education for Hispanics.

Back-to-School Texas Tour Route

Back-to-School Texas Tour Stops

Corpus Christi: The Tour began bright and early in Corpus Christi where the Initiative joined the United Way of the Coastal Bend at the Wesley Community Center to learn about early education efforts by the Center and the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) program. “It is important to start working with kids from birth to get them ready to enter school,” said one organizer. The community is helping parents make early education possible for their children.

Brownsville: The Brownsville Independent School District (ISD) welcomed the Initiative for a roundtable discussion at Daniel Breeden Elementary School. At Brownsville ISD, helping their students succeed begins with helping them believe in themselves. “Teach a child to succeed and I guarantee you, they will succeed. They will succeed no matter what,” noted one administrator. One creative way of engaging and helping students excel is through the game of chess. Through chess, students acquire skills that are applicable to their daily lives: they learn to think strategically and proactively, to feel confident and to believe they are capable of success.

McAllen: In McAllen, the Initiative held a site visit and parent roundtable at the IDEA Public Schools McAllen campus which focuses on innovation and high expectations for students. “College for all children. No excuses.” is the IDEA Public Schools motto. With this in mind, they are working with K-12 students to close the achievement gap and prepare them for college and bright futures.

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