I’ll always remember when a parent came into my English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) class and announced that she just moved from East Boston to a bigger and cheaper apartment in Chelsea. She had no idea that Chelsea was a separate city or that children can only attend schools in the city in which they live. Then there was the Vietnamese parent who told me it would be disrespectful for her to ask her child’s principal any questions. And my heart went out to the young Guatemalan mother who said to me, “Susan, I don’t know what it means to play with my daughters.”
So, more than two decades ago, I began setting up parent ESOL classes. I know how much immigrant parents want their children to succeed in school. But often they don’t know what they can do to help. Language barriers and cultural differences just make the problem worse.
Today we know that immigrant parents who are given the opportunity to study English in their children’s schools not only learn English, which confers a myriad of benefits, but their children’s educational outcomes improve. These parents begin to talk to their children’s teachers, read to their children, go to the library, enroll their children in preschool, attend parent events and take on leadership roles within their schools much more often. Plus, parents consistently report feeling more self-confident, less isolated and more knowledgeable about resources in their school and community, which helps them further enrich their children’s education.
To support the expansion of parent ESOL courses, appropriate curriculum is key. Unfortunately, while typical textbooks often cover workplace tips and survival skills (think going to the grocery store), they barely touch on American school environments. Parents need to know how schools in the United States are structured and what teachers and administrators expect of parents—things which differ widely from culture to culture.
So three years ago, I began working with English for New Bostonians, an organization committed to increasing access to English learning opportunities for adult immigrants in Boston. They began a new initiative to fund parent ESOL classes and asked me to develop a school and parenting related ESOL curriculum.
After working with a team of more than 20 teachers and stakeholders from community organizations, I have now completed the project, called the ESOL for Parents and Caregivers Curriculum. Available as a free download from the English for New Bostonians website, it gives teachers background materials, lessons and activities. The 21 unit curriculum teaches parents about the U.S. school system, provides them with practical skills such as interpreting report cards and participating in teachers conferences, and helps them support children’s learning at home.