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It's crucial to acknowledge and overcome the barriers that impede communication with emergent bilingual families.

6 tips for communicating with emergent bilingual families

It's crucial to acknowledge and overcome the barriers that impede communication with emergent bilingual families

Key points:

Experienced educators understand that students thrive when their families are actively engaged in their education.

This is particularly crucial as we navigate the challenges of helping students recover from the disruptions caused by the pandemic. One demographic that warrants special attention in terms of family communication is emerging bilingual (EB) families. Federal data reveals a significant shift in K-12 enrollment, with EB learners comprising 10 percent of K-12 students in 2020 (and closer to 20 percent in California and Texas), a number projected to keep rising. In terms of impact on teachers, 64 percent have at least one EB student in their classroom.

The challenge of chronic absenteeism

A notable challenge we face is the elevated risk of chronic absenteeism among students who are EB. While pre-pandemic EB students had some of the highest attendance rates, during and since the pandemic those numbers have plummeted, profoundly impacting their academic journey. It’s especially stark in high schools, where studies indicate that EB high school students have a chronic absenteeism rate of 25 percent, compared to 18 percent for their non-EB peers in the same grade.

The vital role of parent communication in student success

Understanding the vital role of effective parent communication in promoting student success is paramount. When home adults actively engage in their student’s education, it goes beyond positive impact; it substantially enhances attendance and academic outcomes. This partnership between educators and parents in the learning journey is the cornerstone of a child’s success, fostering an environment where students can not only excel academically but also receive the support and resources necessary for their overall growth and development.

For this reason, it’s crucial to acknowledge and overcome the barriers that impede communication with emergent bilingual families:

  • Language barriers: Language differences can hinder meaningful communication between educators and emergent bilingual families, making it challenging for families to stay informed about their child’s school experiences.

  • Cultural adjustment: Many emergent bilingual families are navigating a new cultural and educational landscape. Adapting to a new system can be overwhelming and affect their involvement in their child’s education.

  • Socioeconomic factors: Economic pressures, often experienced by emergent bilingual families, may require older students to work part-time to support their families. This can lead to missed school days. It can also mean that EB parents have more difficulty attending in-school events, whether due to childcare difficulties, lack of transportation, or inflexible work schedules.

If we want to improve attendance, well-being, and academic achievement for EB students, we have to start by building a sturdy bridge between home and school.

Six strategies for effective communication and engagement

To address these challenges and foster better school attendance and engagement among EB students and their families, schools can implement the following strategies:

  1. Involve families in the learning process: Teachers can involve families by providing regular updates on their child’s progress and performance, inviting them to school events, and soliciting input on their child’s education. This two-way communication can build trust and support student success.

  2. Use a communications platform with automatic translation: Employ a platform that automatically translates texts and emails into the family’s home language, ensuring effective one-on-one communication between parents and educators.

  3. Use direct and clear language: When communicating with EB families, use clear and straightforward language, avoiding slang or highly technical words that may not translate accurately.

  4. Use multiple types of communication: Recognize that different families have various communication preferences. Use multiple methods to reach out, considering each family’s preferred mode for convenient participation.

  5. Encourage open and frequent communication: Encourage parents to reach out with questions or concerns to foster a trusting relationship.

  6. Share specific examples of student progress or challenges: Utilize a communication program that displays student data to provide concrete examples of a student’s performance or areas for growth.

To truly support our more vulnerable students, it’s essential to revamp our approach to communication. This shift begins with recognizing the critical role that parent communication plays in student success. Instead of perceiving school-home communication merely as an information conduit, we need to approach it as an integral component of teaching and learning.

Embracing these strategies enables schools to bridge gaps, foster stronger relationships, and enhance attendance and academic outcomes for some of the most vulnerable students entering the U.S. K-12 education system.

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