School consultant offers guidance for Spanish speakers

Grant goes toward promoting family engagement, outreach


Consultant Patsy Roybal recently worked with the Douglas County School District to provide families who are not proficient in English with resources and knowledge about their children’s education in Douglas County.

Her work was paid for with part of a $130,000 grant the district received after winning the English Language Proficiency Act Excellence Award from the Colorado Department of Education last year.

Roybal retired from Denver Public Schools, where she was the director of training and leadership development for the Office of Family and Community Engagement. She went on to serve as a Colorado director for the California-based Parent Teacher Home Visits Project.

She spoke to Colorado Community Media about her experience working in Douglas County.

How did you get involved with working in the Douglas County School District?

I received a call from Becky Corr, who is a team lead for the English Language Development Program. She wanted to know if I would be willing to provide some workshops, parent leadership workshops, to some of her families who spoke Spanish. Becky seemed so sincere in her desire to authentically engage with families who speak a language other than English. We came up with this idea of doing a five-week parent leadership training. We started the conversation around July and August and had our first training in September.

What does your consulting work in the district entail?

My primary responsibility with Douglas County was really to provide these five sessions of parent leadership development and then go back and provide a training session for families so they can then take the information they learn and share it with other families in their school communities.

What did families learn at the sessions?

The first session really had to do with parent engagement — the key to student success. Parents learned about what research is telling us around how important family engagement is. Things like supporting and encouraging and motivating their kids to excel. Having conversations with them about their hopes and aspirations, future careers and college. Monitoring their children’s academic progress their attendance their behavior. Really getting to know their kids, areas where they are having a lot of success but also areas where they are struggling. And just being that advocate for their child to be sure that are getting the best education possible.

Then we went on to help them understand the school system, because a lot of these families attended school maybe in Mexico, we had one parent from Cuba, where the educational system is different. Expectations for family engagement might be different. So, they come into our educational system and they really aren’t sure what the expectations for family engagement are.

I helped them understand how our system works. What is the role of the superintendent? What are the roles and responsibilities of board members? Who is their board member that they can go to? What are the roles and responsibilities of staff members within schools? Who do you go to if you have a problem with your student — and especially, who do you go to if you don’t speak English?

After that we then went into understanding data. We also then made sure that they understood what CMAS was and that they understood what the Colorado Academic Standards are.

Why do you think this training is important to provide for families?

The reason it’s so important is because we have over 30 years of research that is clearly telling us that when families are engaged in their children’s education, their children get higher grades, they do better on state assessments, they attend school more regularly, they graduate from high school at higher rates and are more likely to enroll in higher education.

Regardless of the economic, ethnic or culture background of the family, parent engagement is a major factor in ensuring a student’s success. So, it’s really important that we reach out to all families. If you engage all families, especially families that speak a language other than English, the school district is going to be more successful in closing in achievement gaps that exist. And I think it’s just a healthier community when all families come together with a common interest of improving student achievement.

What’s next for the training sessions?

Ideally, they want to expand this to families who speak other languages. They want to have more of a multilingual lens. But they wanted to start with the Spanish speakers to see what the results would be and then continue to expand it.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

My experience has been that with immigrant families or refugee families, they come with a spirit of hope. They want so desperately to make sure that their kids get a good education, that they graduate, prepare to attend to whatever college they choose, and to pursue whatever professional career that they want. That spirit of hope is quite impressive. With the group that I was working with in Douglas County, it went beyond that. There was this strong desire from families to reach out to other families in their community.


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