The new school year is rapidly approaching and for teachers and administrators August becomes a month of both reflecting on the past year and looking forward to what lies ahead. Measureless time is spent on thinking about curriculum, lesson planning and student achievement. Yet one of the most important days of the school year is often overlooked or is an afterthought: Back to School Night.
In particular, schools with ELLs or students from families with non-English speakers have the additional responsibility of thinking of ways to make the event inclusive of families who, in the past, may have been marginalized. Culturally responsive classrooms seek to provide equitable opportunities for learning. Part of what falls under this umbrella is considering what active choices are being made to make families feel welcome at events such as Back to School Night. Below are some thoughts to consider on this topic.
1. Administrators, are translators on hand during speeches? Back to School Night often begins with a group session during which administrators and teachers speak directly to parents in an auditorium. Consider the families in your audience. If they do not speak English, an easy adjustment could be to provide those families with headsets so they can listen to a translation of what is being said by the speaker. Aside from the purchase of headsets, all that is required is someone to serve as the translator. Staff members, college students, community members or even parents can be utilized in this capacity.
2. Teachers, have you prepared multilingual handouts for parents? Teachers often provide copies of pertinent information to parents to guide them through helping their children in the new school year. Even if you cannot personally translate, sites such as Google Translate can help communicate the message to families, even though it is not always a perfect translation. Parents volunteers, former and/or current students, college students and/or community members can serve as translators. As well, the federal government (and many state departments of education) provides various parent guides in different languages. These are free tools available for usage. Check the Office of English Language Acquisition for access to many resources.
3. Schools, are you serving food? To create a warm environment, schools often provide dinner, snacks or desserts for families. Have you considered the dietary needs of families based on culture or religion? In my experience, I have never heard parents complain that there were no special food options for them. However, I have seen on several occasions parents stand empty handed surrounded by other parents who were eating. As a vegetarian, I have found myself in that situation many times. I never felt negatively about the host, but I did feel slightly awkward. Sharing food is an intimate experience and when you are within that experience but unable to actually participate, there is an element of isolation for those people. Offering a variety of options can go a long way in showing families that thought and care has gone into your decision making.
Final thought: The suggestions above should serve as a starting point when planning Back to School Night. None of the options above create any significant finance burden. They require not much more than thoughtful planning, which will go a long way in strengthening parental involvement in your school.