Wanted: Parents with Time for School

The ACIE Newsletter, November 2004, Vol. 8, No. 2

by Kimerly Miller, ACIE Editor, with Gloria Polanco-McNealy, Principal, Alicia R. Chacón International School, El Paso, TX

When Alicia R. Chacón International School opened its doors in 1995 it offered the only language additive (Spanish and English dual immersion) program of its kind in the El Paso area. Moreover, in a unique declaration of the importance of multilingualism, students were also required to study a third language—Russian, Chinese, Japanese, or German—from kindergarten straight through to eighth grade. And if that wasn’t enough to separate Alicia Chacón from the pack, the school expected all parents to commit to no less than four hours per month in volunteer support of the school.

In the words of principal, Gloria Polanco-McNealy, “Our goal is to make parents partners in the learning process by providing them with structured activities and programs which facilitate their active participation in…their children’s [education].” On a normal school day, parents are everywhere: reading to children in classrooms, shelving books in the library, instructing small groups under teacher direction, putting up bulletin boards, assisting with cultural activities, helping in the third language classrooms, monitoring the playground during the lunch periods, participating on committees that plan trips, and planning the yearly third language festivals. Accompanying children on outings specific to their “third language family,” such as taking the children who are studying Russian to a Russian ballet performance, counts as volunteer time, too. An after-school program that serves approximately 150 students each school day also relies on parent participation. Parents help with homework, read stories, coordinate activities such as chess, and supervise other games and sports. The parent coordinator of the after-school program makes sure that every student knows what rotations require them to move to the next group. This extra-curricular program is funded through a small grant.

Volunteer time is not just spent at school. Parents from Alicia Chacón also accompany staff members to present at conferences such as the one organized by the National Association of Bilingual Education. They have spoken about the parent volunteer program and the unique third language requirement that this school’s multilingual children fulfill.

Parental involvement is discussed from the moment a child is admitted into kindergarten at Alicia R. Chacón International School. Parents are asked to make a minimum five-year commitment to the school to ensure that their child has sufficient time to be successful in all three of the languages of instruction. Parents must sign an agreement [see figure 1 on p. 5] that includes a mandatory four hours of voluntary service on a monthly basis. During parent orientation nights at the beginning of the school year, parents receive numerous ideas from the teachers about how to meet the four-hour requirement. A staff member serves as the “Communities in Schools” contact person. Her responsibility is to coordinate all parent volunteer activities. To assist her with this job, the parents themselves elect a coordinator from their own ranks. One important job of the parent volunteer coordinator is to keep track of the volunteer hours [see figure 2 below]. Each month the parent coordinator collects the hours that have been tracked in each classroom and compiles a school-wide total.

Educational research on parent involvement consistently shows that parents matter when it comes to the personal and academic development of their children. Cloud, Genesee, and Hamayan (2000) in their handbook on implementing dual language programs identify nine critical features of effective programming. In first place, they list “Parent involvement is integral to program success” (p. 9). The Alicia R. Chacón International School has an established parent volunteer program that provides a best practice model for other immersion programs to emulate. Their program harnesses the rich resource that parents as participating stakeholders can be and parent involvement is expected and practiced regardless of economic, educational, linguistic, or ethinic background.


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