Immigrant Families Navigating Family Engagement

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Isha is a current student who just started her sophomore year at Emory. She is passionate about the immigrant experience and interned with Possip this past summer and is sharing today on our blog a little bit about her experience with parent engagement as the child of immigrants.   

Growing up, I always dreaded parent teacher conferences.

It wasn’tIsha Soni because I was a bad student. I did fine in school, and I was always the quiet kid in class. Teachers rarely had much of a reason to complain. The “teacher” part of parent-teacher wasn’t the problem.

I found that my experience mirrored that of other kids of immigrants in some ways, but that it was also unique, and I’ve found that there are two types of problems immigrant parents face when trying to communicate with their child’s school: language barriers and cultural disparities in academic expectations.

In spaces where they are the minority, immigrants often find it difficult to complain about their needs. My parents and I moved to Tennessee from India when I was a toddler. Their English was good, but my parents have always felt burdened by their accents. It was evident that people treated them differently because of it: administrators spoke to them more slowly than they did to my friends’ parents, they would explain things more carefully, and there were times when my parents had something to say and would either be misunderstood or not taken seriously at school. At a certain point as I got older, whenever my parents needed to communicate something to the school, they would send me in with a note rather than calling so that they could avoid any miscommunication.

For those whose parents struggle with English, students are often forced to take the role of translator. That seems simple enough, as long as a teacher doesn’t have to inform the parents of something privately. It can get trickier when the teacher has something critical to share with the parents and the student is the primary translator.

Possip is a tool that can help schools improve according to parent needs, but it’s also a direct way for parents to have their voice heard without having to confront the barriers of communication inherent to many immigrant families.

If you enjoyed this article you may enjoy this one: Parents Need a Sense of Belonging.

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