AbstractEnglish language learners (ELL) are part of the largest growing student population in almost all states. Participation of the family and community in ELL is undermined by a number of factors that include; diverse cultural norms, limited understanding of English and unfamiliar school systems. These factors may inhibit proper interactions between schools, families and the community and, therefore, inhibit the participation in ELL. In order to improve the performance of ELL and reduce dropout rates, research supports community and family engagement. Taking into account the cultural diversity expressed in ELL student population, both traditional and non-traditional methods of parental engagement are advocated for.

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English language learners (ELL) are part of the largest growing student population in almost all states. Participation of the family and community in ELL is undermined by a number of factors that include; diverse cultural norms, limited understanding of English and unfamiliar school systems. These factors may inhibit proper interactions between schools, families and the community and, therefore, inhibit the participation in ELL. In order to improve the performance of ELL and reduce dropout rates, research supports community and family engagement. Taking into account the cultural diversity expressed in ELL student population, both traditional and non-traditional methods of parental engagement are advocated for.

Features of English Language Learners
The ELL student population has one main characteristic in common; that is; English is not their first language. However, while some are at the beginner’s level, others have gained considerable proficiency in the language. They also differ in terms of their ethnic origins, cultural background and socio-economic class (Chavez, 2010). The adult ELL population has also increased tremendously from 14 million to 21.3 million adults between the years 1990-2000 (Arias and Morillo –Campbell, 2008). It is this remarkable growth of the ELL population that raised concerns among policy makers on the impact that lack of knowledge of the English language and skills would have on the involvement of parents in the education of their children. Also, the anti-bilingual legislation that was passed in the states of Massachusetts, Arizona, and California was an expression of the hostility towards the use of native languages in schools (Arias and Morillo –Campbell, 2008). Both students and parents, therefore, almost equally experience the consequences anti-immigrants perception even in schools with diverse student population.

Statistics on Participation of ELL Families and Community in Education.
ELL language learners are reported to form the largest growing segment of student population in the U.S (Arias and Morillo –Campbell, 2008). Statistics has it that in the 2004-2005 academic year, 5.1 million students were ELLs. The number rose to 10.8 million in 2007, with only 5% of this population being able to speak English with some difficulty (Aydin, Bryan, and Duys, 2012). Despite this development, ELL students have for a long time been segregated based on their socio-cultural backgrounds and socio-economic status. They also tend to be concentrated in a few schools where people from their ethnic origins or cultural backgrounds are predominant. Arias and Morillo–Campbell report that 70% of ELL students nation-wide enroll in 10% of elementary schools in the U.S (2008). In these schools, 50% of the student population consists of the linguistically diverse students. This has the impact of increasing their linguistic isolation by reducing their exposure to English speakers. Family and community involvement in a child’s education is one of the factors that influence the child’s performance. As such, there is need for parents, the family and the community to be involved in ELL.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) conducted a National Education survey program in 2012 (Noel, Stark, and Redford, 2013). The program focused on family participation in a child’s education. The data collected covered students in the U.S from kindergarten through to grade 12 in both public and private schools. 87% of parents of students from kindergarten to grade 12 reported having received communication initiated by the schools through notices, newsletters or memos that were addressed to every parent from their child’s school. 57% of the parents reported to have received personal email messages concerning their child while 41% reported to have received telephone calls from their child’s school (Noel, Stark, and Redford, 2013). The same report indicated that compared to English speakers, very few parents who are non-English speakers or where only one parent is an English speaker participated in any of the school activities. The activities range from attending general school meetings, parent-teacher organization/association meetings, parent teacher conference, volunteering to serve in school committees and meeting school counselors and attending class events (Noel, Stark, and Redford, 2013). This irregular participation according to Arias and Morillo –Campbell (2008) can be attributed to diverse cultural norms, limited understanding of English and unfamiliar school systems. They further note that little is being done by schools to enhance family and community involvement in ELL. In fact, family involvement in most cases is defined by what the school needs or a perception some form of deficiency in the ELL communities and families (Arias and Morillo –Campbell, 2008).

In the schools that have predominant ELL population are faced with communication barriers. Most of parents of ELL students have low literacy levels in their own native languages and can barely speak, read, or write English. The 2000 census report revealed that almost 50% of ELL students had parents with less than a high school education and 25% with less than a 9th grade education (Arias and Morillo –Campbell, 2008). These parents have limited exposure to schools and the activities therein or have negative experiences with schools. Their participation in their children’s education and related activities can be hampered by these factors. And where the parents are willing to be involved, shortage of dominant language proficiency becomes a barrier (Vera, Isreali, Coyle, Cross, Knight, Moallem, and Goldberg, 2012). Vera et al also cite anti-immigrant sentiments and individual logistics such as work as barriers to effective participation of ELL parents in their children’s education.

At the adult English literacy classes, community participation is easier depending on the flexibility of the centers. Some are basically community based and the teacher has room to develop interactive methods that encourage the students and community participation. Lave and Wenger have described English as a second Language (ESL) programs in the U.S as an example of community practice where the adult immigrants get to bring along their own individual experiences and share the socio-cultural practices of a second language (Finn, 2015). The Chinese form the second largest foreign group in New York City and most of them live in setups where they are surrounded by Chinese people. They, therefore, rarely have the opportunity to read, write, and speak in English. Participation in the English literacy classes thus becomes necessary for them to acquire English language skills and to develop them.

Heather Finn conducted a ten-month research study to find out how apprenticeship and encouragement fostered community participation at Urban Settlement Organization (USO). The organization is based on the lower East side of Manhattan where the Chinese Immigrants constitute a majority of the adult English literacy classes (Finn, 2015). He found out that in the USO adult literacy class, the teachers took advantage of the social dynamics within the classroom to improve the student’s participation. Apprenticeship was employed in assigning consistent regular students the role of an assistant teacher while other students would voluntarily take lead roles on a weekly basis (Finn, 2015). The assistant teachers would be the experts while new students would be the novices. Community participation is hereby enhanced by the different members of a community taking on different roles at different times. In ESL, the participation is also considered social and is affected by experiences of the individual students outside the classroom, this includes their cultural backgrounds. Having the students from the diverse cultures take on different roles at each time enables them overcome the cultural barriers that would have otherwise hindered their participation.

The rise in the number of ELLs has increased the need for partnership between schools and parents of the linguistically diverse students. There has been a general concern on the lower performance scores of ELL In comparison to their White colleagues. This is because the ELLs face several challenges such as racial name calling, unfamiliar learning styles, weak support systems, isolation, and anxiety or pressure that comes with learning a new language. Aydin, Bryan, and Duys, (2012) come to similar conclusions with Arias and Morillo –Campbell (2008) that the poor performance is an indicator of the challenges that inhibit co-operation between ELL families and schools. Consequently, family and community participation in a child’s education are undermined.

Aydin, Bryan, and Duys suggest because of these multi-dimensional challenges that ELL students, families and communities face there ought to be a professional advocate within the school system to help them maneuver through the system and to enhance the participation of their families in their education (Aydin, Bryan, and Duys, 2012). The school counselors were identified as the most appropriate advocates for linguistically diverse students. The school counselors based on their expertise and experience in social development, collaboration, and change in systems are in position to strengthen partnership between schools, families, and communities. This statement is supported by the 2005 national model of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) that envisions counselors as leaders, change agents, effective team players, and advocates (Aydin, Bryan, and Duys, 2012). They can also work with the community, educators, families, and the students to identify the obstacles that ELL face in obtaining an optimal academic experience. The increase in culturally diversity of students in schools has also increased the role of counselor’s in facilitating development of students. This is why working with the ELL calls for a deliberate partnership between the counselors and all the relevant stakeholders in order to achieve success.

Methods of Family and Community Involvement in ELL
School-Family-Community Partnerships with ELL
The partnerships between schools, community, and families are collaborative initiatives from the three stakeholders working together to come up with communal and school-based intervention and prevention activities that are essential in enabling a child’s success in personal development, academia, and social life (Aydin, Bryan, and Duys, 2012). The counselors act as the link between the schools and the community. These collaborative initiatives also make use of resources that are readily available within the communities (Aydin, Bryan, and Duys, 2012). Bemak (P. 147) proposed three approaches that School, family, and community Partnerships could use. The first approach is for the counselors to link the students plus their families to resources within their communities that would meet their special needs (Aydin, Bryan, and Duys, 2012). For instance poor ELL families can be connected to employment opportunities to meet their economic needs. The second approach is to organize for programs within the schools where community members can bring in their services (Aydin, Bryan, and Duys, 2012). For example, mentorship programs where the community members can adopt and mentor the students in an identified area of interest. Last but not least, through the partnership, a program or service can be developed and provided either within or without the school premises (Aydin, Bryan, and Duys, 2012). For the programs to function efficiently, the school counselors may also have to partner with school stakeholders and third-party agencies in order to provide solutions to some of the complex problems students may be facing in their families and communities.

Limitations. Bryan and Holcomb (P. 147) raised concerns over the preparedness of school counselors to facilitate the partnership between schools and ELL families and communities (Aydin, Bryan, and Duys, 2012). For them the school counselor training does not necessarily equip them on handling this kind of partnership. The counselors have also expressed discomfort in dealing with ELL families and communities because of the cultural diversity. Therefore, counselors who lack some background in cross cultural collaborations feel inadequate in handling the diverse family and community dynamics (Aydin, Bryan, and Duys, 2012).

In addition, in the U.S, the schools that have large numbers of racially and linguistically diverse students with poor economic backgrounds tend to have few counselors (Aydin, Bryan, and Duys, 2012). ELL students to be concentrated in poor schools that experience shortages in professional staff (Arias and Morillo –Campbell, 2008). The result is that the ratio of counselors to student is overwhelming and the counselors may not have all the time and resources to identify individual needs of all the students. This is highly likely to undermine collaborative relationships between the counselor and the ELL families. To worsen the situation, translators may also not be readily available to assist counselors in working with the ELL and their families. Further still, in this school environments where the counselor to student ratio is unmatched, some initiative from the student would make the burden of the counselors a bit lighter but Montgomery, Roberts and Growe (P. 148) report that the culturally diverse students compared to their white counterparts rarely seek for help from school counselors (Aydin, Bryan, and Duys, 2012).

Again, Aydin, Bryan, and Duys (2012) in their research study noted that the school counselors are more likely to establish these collaborative relationships only when their principals expect it of them. For some counselors, such partnerships are developed when they see it as their responsibility while other counselors do it when they have undergone training on partnership development and implementation.

Epstein’s Multidimensional framework
Epstein’s framework of parental involvement is what Chavez-Areyes (2010) and Arias and Morillo –Campbell (2008). The multidimensional framework expects Ell parents to provide an enabling learning environment for their children. Likewise, the parent should facilitate learning at home by monitoring their child’s academic progress and availing the necessary materials. Communication entails a two-way exchange of information between the parents and the educators and other school staff. Epstein (P. 185) also encourages ELL parents to offer voluntary support to school or class events (Vera, et al, 2012). In addition to this, they should willingly join parents-teachers association where they can be part of the decision making team and play a part in shaping the school’s policy. According to this framework, ELL parents can still be actively involved in their children’s education because monitoring a child’s sleeping hours, access to media and so on, does not really require dominant language literacy or high levels of education.

Limitations. ELL parents’ experiences with schools and the school staff will still have an influence on the type of involvement the parents will maintain. For example, volunteering in school functions, joining the PTA/PTO and consistent communication with the teachers will be determined by how the school treats them and presents itself. If there no bilingual staff or translators at the school, the parent may not feel comfortable in such an environment and this will affect the aforementioned forms of involvement.

A parent’s cultural values and perception of their role in education will also affect their involvement in the child’s education. Some cultures highly esteem teachers and would not dare to question their teaching methods, assessment styles or interfere in any way with the progress the teacher is making with their child Vera, et al, 2012).

In a nutshell, the participation of ELL families in their children’s education is still greatly inhibited despite the existing models of involvement. The traditional model creates room for blame game between parents and teachers on the failure of students to succeed in given areas. The partnership model calls for a caring school environment which has not been the case in reality. Again, the uneven distribution of economic and social capital limits the interactions of parents with the school community and their involvement options with their children as well.

  • Arias, M. B., & Morillo-Campbell, M. (2008). Promoting ELL Parental Involvement: Challenges in Contested Times. Online Submission.
  • Aydin, N. G., Bryan, J. A., & Duys, D. K. (2012). School counselors’ partnerships with linguistically diverse families: An exploratory study. School Community Journal, 22(1), 145.
  • Chavez-Reyes, C. (2010). Inclusive approaches to parent engagement for young English language learners and their families. Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, 109(2), 474-504.
  • Finn, H. B. (2015). A Need to Be Needed: The Intersection between Emotions, Apprenticeship, and Student Participation in an Adult ESL Literacy Classroom. Journal of Research and Practice for Adult Literacy, Secondary, and Basic Education, 4(1), 36-47.
  • Noel, A., Stark, P., & Redford, J. (2013). Parent and Family Involvement in Education, from the National Household Education Surveys Program of 2012. First Look. NCES 2013-028. National Center for Education Statistics.
  • Vera, E. M., Israel, M. S., Coyle, L., Cross, J., Knight-Lynn, L., Moallem, I., … & Goldberger, N. (2012). Exploring the educational involvement of parents of English learners. School Community Journal, 22(2), 183.