Bilingual and Multilingual Family Events

Strengthen home-to-school connections with this strategy that brings non-English speaking families into the fold of a school's culture
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About This Strategy

This strategy is intended to help families navigate their local educational system and provide opportunities for the school to engage with families. It is an effort to minimize disenfranchisement of immigrant and non-English speaking families who may find it difficult to connect with the school community, to help their students with their education, and to understand the school culture their students are navigating. The strategy could be implemented at any time during the school year when a need is seen within a specific language community. Ideally, each language community would have at minimum two bilingual  events each year. The more language communities within a school system, the more difficult this may be to arrange. Trilingual and even multilingual events may be the better option in those cases. This particular strategy is effective because it ensures families become connected to the school community and are therefore, more comfortable approaching school personnel with concerns and to seek help when needed. Families are more involved in their students' education which in turn results in better outcomes for those students.

Implementation Steps

 

  1. Identify the need. 

    • Which language would you like to be the focus of the next bilingual event? 

    • Which cultural group or groups would benefit the most at this moment in time?

    • For more information on the impact bilingual family events can have on student performance, check out the article, Bilingual Family Night for ELL Families, linked below.

  2. Identify bilingual resources for the event. 

    • Who on the staff is bilingual in English and the target language? 

    • If there is no bilingual staff at your school, is there someone within the wider district who might be available? 

    • If there is no one within the district, who else might fill that role? Seek out volunteers. These could be bilingual community members and/or bilingual family members of students. Recruit their participation, particularly with the presentation of information in the target language at the event.

  3. Plan the focus of your event. What do you wish to accomplish with it? 

    • As you decide on the event's outcomes, keep in mind the targeted audience. An event planned specifically for newcomer families may have different outcomes than one planned for the larger community of Burmese speakers. 

    • Be careful not to set too many goals for any one event. A well-structured, targeted event with clear and concise outcomes that can be managed within the time frame allotted will have a greater chance of success. 

    • Outcomes a school might consider:

      • Newcomer families are oriented to the American educational system and the culture of the school community.

      • Families gain an in-depth understanding of how grades are awarded and how to read progress reports and/or grade cards.

      • Families are introduced to community resources and events. For example, families are assisted in acquiring a library card, connecting with community centers, applying for public assistance, etc.

      • Families of high school students gain an understanding of the higher education system in the U.S. and are provided support in navigating next steps. For example, families are provided information around available scholarships and financial aid and are given assistance with the FAFSA application process.

      • Parents and other adults connected to the school community enroll in classes to acquire new skills (for example, classes that teach English, parenting, citizenship, etc.)

    • For further examples of what to focus on at an event like this, see the below resource, English Language Learner and Multilingual Learner Parent Events. 

  4. Plan the event. The resource below, titled Event Planning Document Template, can be used to guide you through this process.

    • Determine who will work the event, how many presentations there will be, who the presenters will be, who will interpret for them, etc. Seek out community volunteers, school employees, etc.

    • When will the event take place? Seek out input from the community you wish to serve with this event. This is a critical piece. If a large portion of the targeted group works an evening shift, this is important information to have. Consider all time frames that might work, including breakfast events, events during the typical school day, evening and weekend events. Which time frame has the best possibility of achieving the most attendance?

    • Where will the event take place? While the easy answer is usually the school itself, sometimes an event will have more success if it is held in a location where families feel more comfortable. Options might include a community center, the local library, a church, etc. These options have the added benefit of bridging the gap between the school and the wider community it serves.

    • Plan your activities, presentations, etc. Note: The presence of food at an event can have a hugely positive impact on attendance. If there isn't a budget for this, consider asking local restaurants for donations. If you have an active PTA, they might be willing to chip in. You might also sponsor a potluck where families bring food to share.

  5. Market the event, not just to the school community but to media sources if appropriate. Consider preparing press releases and inviting the media to your event. Marketing is absolutely critical to the success of any school event, particularly those targeting non-English speaking families. There are many reasons why these families fail to attend school events and marketing must address each of these issues. A survey asking families why they do not attend events can provide insight and may make the next event more successful. Some reasons for non-attendance might include:

    • Awareness. Families cannot attend if they are unaware the event will be taking place. 

    • Language barriers. Do not assume families know interpreters will be on hand. Make this clear in the marketing. In addition, your marketing materials themselves must be in the targeted language. Seek bilingual volunteers to make phone calls as well, to connect with families and make personal invitations. This is especially critical for families who may lack literacy in their heritage language.

    • Transportation. If public transportation is available in your city, provide information about bus routes in your marketing. If it is not, consider providing school buses to bring families to the event if necessary. 

    • Child care. If children are welcome to attend the event, make this clear in the marketing. If not, consider providing child care to increase attendance.

    • Work schedules. Again, surveying families will help ensure an event is scheduled at the best time.

  6. Roll out the event. Have fun! 

    • Take attendance! Every adult should sign in, identifying their name AND the name of their student(s). This will help schools identify later which families were in attendance and which ones were not. 

    • Ask families to complete a survey regarding their experience at the event. Make sure the survey is in their language OR have interpreters available to walk them through the survey. 

    • Leave time at the end for Q&A and for families to mingle and socialize.

  7. Reach out to those families unable to attend to ensure they are provided the information they missed and to determine the barriers to their attendance. This will help in planning the next event.

  8. Debrief the event with staff and volunteers. Send surveys to presenters and interpreters. Ask for input on this event, what went well, what could be improved, and whether they would be willing to help with future events.

  9. Celebrate the success of the event! Post photos on a school website and/or social media to share the event's success. As word-of-mouth circulates through the community about the first bilingual event, future events should have increasing attendance and success. Continue to refine and evaluate programming to ensure it is always evolving and targeting the specific needs of the community being served.

EL Modification

Description: This strategy specifically targets this population of students. However, some modifications that might be beneficial for ELL families lacking native literacy skills include making phone calls to invite them to the event, having an interpreter on hand to walk them through a survey and providing that family with the contact information of someone who is bilingual and biliterate they can contact when they need assistance understanding written communications from the school.

Implementation steps:

  1. Identify families who are lacking literacy skills in their native language.

  2. Partner those families with a bilingual staff member or a community member who is willing to be a contact for assistance with communications.

  3. Identify a staff member or volunteer who is willing to reach out to share information about upcoming events via phone or home visit. For more information on strategies for successfully communicating with families, see the article, Communicating Important Information with ELL Families: Strategies for Success, linked in the Resources section below.

Special Education Modification

Description: ASL is another language, in much the same way that Spanish is. The bilingual and multiple lingual family event strategy can be highly effective for deaf or hard of hearing family members. Including an ASL interpreter at a school event can be incredibly beneficial for students with deaf parents. As with our second language learners, deaf parents may not be fully engaged in the school culture and this is a way to bridge that gap and increase their involvement in the education of their student(s). See the video, KODA in Kindergarten Holiday Concert, linked in the resources section below, for an example of one child who knows how incredibly important ASL is for her parents to fully enjoy a family event.

Implementation steps:

  1. Identify the need. How many families would benefit from an ASL interpreter at your school events? If only a few, look into providing an ASL interpreter at your currently planned school events (bilingual and otherwise). If the need is significant, consider planning a specific ASL bilingual event for your school's deaf community.

  2. Plan and implement the event as described in the strategy above.

Bilingual and Multilingual Family Events for Distance Learning

Description: This modification details how a school might hold a bilingual family event in a virtual environment.

Implementation steps:

  1. Using the implementation steps above, identify how an event might need to be modified for the virtual environment. The article, How to Host Virtual School Events: A Ten-Step Planning Guide for Fall, linked in the resources section below, is a detailed planning resource for virtual family events. While this article doesn't specifically mention bilingual events, a lot of the information can still be beneficial. 

    • Determine which technology tools will be used and plan to set aside time during the event to orient families to those tools (see step 4 below). 

    • Survey families regarding the best times for them to meet online. You might also survey to find out what technology tools they already have available to them. Are they more likely to log on if they're able to do so using their phone?

    • Surveys can be more difficult to implement in a virtual environment. Plan to leave enough time at the end of the event to walk families through an online survey. Breakout rooms might be a good idea, particularly if this is a multilingual event, to ensure each language group has access to an interpreter (see step 3 below).

    • Give particular thought to what you can do to help encourage participation in a virtual environment. What activities can you plan for that will promote participation and engagement. For example, while transportation may no longer be a barrier to attendance, child care might still be, particularly for young children. How can you plan activities that will engage and motivate every age group?

  2. Identify who will host this event online and who will be identified as co-hosts.

  3. Create breakout rooms if necessary (for example, if multiple languages are present, breakout rooms might be language specific).

  4. When rolling out the event, ensure there is time at the beginning to orient participants to the virtual environment.

    • How to utilize the chat feature

    • How to raise their hands

    • How to mute / unmute

Related Lessons

  • This strategy can be used when planning an ongoing series of events like Saturday Family Academy by Kansas City Kansas Public Schools. These events were intended to help families connect with the school system and acquire some language in the process. The resource below, Lesson Plan: Week 3 The Arts, provides a sample lesson from the Academy. For more information about this series of events, see the Use Case, Saturday Family Academy, below.

  • This strategy can be used to plan individual events as part of a larger series, like Shawnee Mission North HIgh School's FamiliaFIRST events. The focus of these events is to help families navigate the school system and to become active participants in the education of their student(s). The resource below, FamiliaFIRST: Financing College, provides a template for planning for one of these events. For more information regarding this event, see the Use Case, FamiliaFIRST, below.

Saturday Family Academy

Description: This an ongoing family outreach program planned and implemented by the ESOL Department of Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools. The intent of the program is to increase family engagement and participation in school events and to provide English language and American culture lessons to ELL families in the district. All members of the family are invited and welcome, from newborns through adults. The program is staffed with teachers, bilingual aides, bilingual family advocates and bilingual community outreach workers.

Implementation steps:

  1. Put together a team of educators who will build the curriculum for the academy each semester. Identify a theme and focus for each semester. Some possible themes:

    • Community resources

    • Survival language

    • Citizenship and culture

  2. Determine how many sessions there will be and their dates and times. 

  3. Put out a call for educators and aides to teach for the Academy. Keep in mind the need for back-up substitute teachers as well. Hire more staffing than you think you will need. Try to hire educators able to commit to all of the sessions for that semester.

  4. Put together marketing flyers with information about the sessions and what will be covered. Ensure these forms are in every targeted language. The resources, SFA Marketing Flyers (English) and SFA Marketing Flyers (5 languages), linked below, provide examples of what these flyers might look like.

  5. Create application forms for families. Ensure these forms are available in every targeted language. The resource, SFA sign-up forms (6 languages), linked below, provide examples of what these sign-up forms might look like.

  6. Market the event to schools and families in the district. Work with schools to collect family applications. The sign-up period should be at least a couple weeks.

  7. Once all applications have been accepted, assign a number to each family. This will help you monitor the number of families served as well as the number of individuals. 

  8. Create a spreadsheet of all participant information. The resource linked below (Family Participant Spreadsheet) is an example of what this might look like.

  9. Divide participants into age groups, then assign them to classes of 15 or less. 

  10. Assign staffing to classes identified. The goal is to have one teacher and one aide per class group. Be aware that not every family who signs up will attend AND there will be families showing up who did not sign up. In addition, as word-of-mouth spreads, more families may show up at the second or third session. Be flexible! Have application forms available and allow families to sign up on-site.

  11. Schedule a day to roll out the curriculum to Academy staff. Allow time for staff to collaborate and plan for the first session.

  12. Take attendance each session. Allow time after each session to debrief with staff and for staff to plan for the next session. The resource below, Family Sign In, is an example of one method for taking attendance.

  13. At the final session of the semester, request families fill out a survey. Have the surveys available in the targeted language(s) or have interpreters available to assist them. The resource below, Saturday Family Academy Survey, is an example of the type of survey that might be presented.

  14. As a team, debrief how the entire program went. Make adjustments as needed for future events. The resource below, Saturday Academy Formative Report, details the type of information that might be gathered from participants to determine the success of a program.

FamiliaFIRST

Description: This is a series of bilingual family events organized and implemented by an ELL teacher, Jackie Madrigal, at Shawnee Mission North High School. The intent of these events is to orient ELL families to the American educational system and to Shawnee Mission North specifically and to help them successfully navigate secondary education and beyond.

Implementation steps:

  1. Identify a need in the Spanish-speaking community and the focus for your event. 

  2. Plan the event. For a sample event planning document, see the Related Lesson section above, where FamiliaFIRST: Financing College from  Jackie Madrigal at Shawnee Mission North High School), is linked in its Resources section. A blank event planning template is also included under Resources in the Strategy Implementation Block above.

  3. Arrange for community speakers, presenters, interpreters, etc. Community outreach efforts are critical to this process. For the FamiliaFIRST events, local colleges have sent bilingual reps to the school's bilingual college fair called UniverSÍdad, the Hispanic Development Fund of Kansas City has presented regarding the college and financial aid process, and other community organizations have helped connect families with community resources. 

  4. Market the event. Sample marketing flyers, provided by Jackie Madrigal at Shawnee Mission North High School, are included in the resource section below. There are flyers for a school orientation event, for two going to college events (UniverSÍdad and FAFSA BLASTA) and for an immigration talk.

  5. Roll out the event. See resources section below for a couple sample slide show presentations (familiaFIRST School Orientation Presentation and FamiliaFIRST Camino a la UniverSÍdad) and a handout for families (familiaFIRST Spanish Resource Guide: School Orientation Event), both provided by Jackie Madrigal at Shawnee Mission North High School.

  6. Survey families to determine how beneficial the event was and to get their ideas for future events. What needs do they have that the school can fulfill? For an example of the type of questions to ask in a survey, see SMSD FAFSA BLASTA Evaluation, provided by Jackie Madrigal at Shawnee Mission North High School, linked in the resources section below.

CRTL Alignment

Explanation: Many schools have diverse communities. The question is whether the events they organize celebrate and honor that diversity. These events do exactly that and send a culturally responsive message that the school community is open and enthusiastic about that diversity.