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US Education Secretary calls on schools to increase parent involvement

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He chose the Hernández School, where children learn in Spanish and English, to highlight the work of a Spanish-speaking family liaison and a program that trains Spanish-speaking parents to work as teachers’ aides.

“There’s a sense of community and sense of family here,” said Cardona, after visiting classes and speaking with parents.

One mother said she received crucial help in Spanish from the family liaison at the school filling out an application for Section 8 housing.

Another said the school and its psychologist had helped her family understand the mental health challenges her son, who had become hyperactive and aggressive, was having.

“Through talking with the psychologist, we better understand what motivates our children and how to incentivize them to do better,” she said.

Cardona, who grew up in a Puerto Rican family in Connecticut, spoke fluent Spanish with the group of parents and educators. He stressed that representation matters if schools want parents to get involved.

“We need more people in schools who can connect with families … especially after the pandemic,” Cardona said in Spanish, mentioning that his wife worked as a school family liaison.

Parent engagement has rarely gotten much attention as a national education priority, but the pandemic may have changed that.

“The pandemic has shown a huge spotlight on the fact that many schools do not have deep engagement with families, because many schools didn’t even know how to contact parents,” said Rebecca Winthrop, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a D.C.-based left-leaning think tank.

And online learning gave parents front row seats in the classroom, enabling them to watch their children’s online lessons, help their children troubleshoot technical problems, or teach them to read.

“Parents now realize how important their role is,” said Ivelisse Caraballo, the executive director of the Collaborative Parent Leadership Action Network, a parent training organization based in Boston, that focuses on immigrant and low-income families.

As Cardona solicited ideas Friday for improving parent engagement, parents pointed to a program started this fall at the Hernández K-8 to train parents to become teachers’ aides.

The initiative was modeled after the Parent Mentor program run by St. Stephen’s Youth Services, which trains parents and caregivers at four Boston schools.

School leaders were motivated to start their own program after hearing about the financial pressure some parents were feeling. Many mothers had given up their jobs to supervise their children during remote learning and hadn’t returned to work. The severe labor shortage also meant it might be hard finding classroom help, especially workers who spoke Spanish.

So, the school started a small program to train mothers to work in classrooms with young children learning to read. The mothers spend two hours a day working with children and are paid for their time using federal COVID-19 relief money, according to school leaders.

The program started as was a way to give mothers professional training and take advantage of their skills. But the program has also become a powerful parent engagement tool.

“Now I feel like I can help my child with school work,” one mother participating in the program told Cardona in Spanish.

Bianca Vázquez Toness can be reached at bianca.toness@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @biancavtoness.

This content was originally published here.

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