For one East African Minneapolis Public Schools parent, homework time usually comes with tears, sometimes on the part of their elementary age children sometimes on the part of mom. This parent, who did not want to have her name used due to her own discomfort with her limited English, says she struggles to sometimes understand her English-speaking child’s homework and to read school announcements, and because of that, she struggles to engage with the school district.
Usually homework time starts with reviewing any notes or emails from her childrens’ teachers. English homework is challenging, because of the language barrier, but not impossible. Math is where things get tough and it has meant bringing in a tutor to support both mom and child.
Despite ongoing challenges, Minneapolis Public Schools is making efforts to connect with non-English speaking parents. MPS school board member Adriana Cerrillo says that last year the district voted to include language access services in the district’s budget, although she says she also knows that more needs to be done.
“I can tell you because of my own experience with my nephew, at the end of every day I get an email, in Spanish and in English,” said Cerrillo in a phone interview. “But I’m still not okay that we don’t have enough Latino representation, that our people never really had a voice at the table.”
Alongside English Learner services for students, there is programming for non-English speaking parents offered through the district. These services include support for new immigrants, like the recently-held Newcomer Fair, resource connections with the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County, and learning support and materials for parents so that they can support their children throughout the school year.
According to the MPS website, over 100 languages are spoken within the MPS community and the district has a large and growing English Learner population. The district is also home to a refugee population.
“This year we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of newcomer students in the district,” said Muhidin Warfa, Executive Director of the Multilingual Department at MPS. “The population growth has been driven primarily by two big groups, one of them being Afghani students and their families.”
In the past school year alone the district jumped from eight Afghani students to 260. Warfa said the district uses cultural facilitators to support new MPS families that either don’t speak English or that need support with English.
The other big group requiring additional district resources right now is Ecuadorian students as part of the 700 Spanish-speaking families currently calling MPS home.
“We’re hiring cultural facilitators to help them navigate the system. We've held parent info sessions for them on how to enroll, how to register for their students in our district, how to connect with their school teacher, and come to the school for specific needs they need. And we’re also connecting them with other agencies,” said Warfa.
The district is also increasing engagement efforts aimed at non-English speaking families. Those engagement efforts are most focused on engaging parents and families in the district, connecting them with internal resources and opportunities, and doing so in a diversity of ways.
“Our work is about connecting families with the district and to be present to hear feedback from those families,” said Edgar Alfonzo, the Interim Director for Family Engagement at MPS. Alfonzo also hosts a radio show on La Raza, aimed at engaging MPS parents who speak Spanish in the district, by sharing Spanish-language news and announcements with those families.
Alfonzo says the district recently faced a challenge with some of its non-English speaking parents when they shared that the MPS schools they were attending were not prepared to support the families or English Learning students.
“Some of the schools were not prepared because their population changed drastically really quick,” said Alfonzo. “So with that feedback from our families, we brought that information to the district, so the district could start taking measures in order to better serve those families.”
English Learning parents seeking support from MPS can reach out to the Office of Family Engagement, their Parent Advisory Committee, or cultural facilitators within the district.