An English language learning (ELL) student can’t communicate their educational needs to their parents or guardians or educators as well as other students.
Engagement with their family is the key to breaking through. Students with involved guardians often have better attendance, behavior, and grades.
ELL family members may find it challenging to get involved due to language barriers. Many school communications are conducted through paper-based technology. This includes forms that need to be printed and signed, checks that need to be hand-delivered to offices, or letters in the mail.
School resources are limited. They typically can't translate these correspondences into different languages. Schools need to use accessible technology to improve communication with this population.
Understanding ELL education
An English language learner refers to a student who does not natively speak English, yet attends a school where English is the primary language. That fact presents many barriers for those students. Consider that students learn about complex ideas every day in class. An English-speaking student has the language to ask for help when needed. An ELL student does not have the words to do so. If that student can't ask the right questions, they may not ask for help at all. That will cause them to fall further and further behind.
The country’s English-language learner population is on a steep upward trajectory. As of 2020, enrollment is up 28 percent spread across 43 states. This number is only going to continue to rise. Many schools across the country lack the support to accommodate this growing population. Schools often lack translation services to work with children in the classroom and communicate with their families.
When ELL families don't have access to those services, the barrier between these families and the school will grow. The student's grades will slip and guardians will miss crucial information when that happens.
How do ELL families participate in their child’s education?
A guardian's cultural background will impact the way they interact with their child's school and education.
For example, Latin American public schools encourage families to teach their children social, behavioral, and emotional life skills to prepare them for school. But those families often do not partner with teachers or provide information on the child's learning. Someone from that area raising a child in the US may assume that is the universal expectation.
Through a grant from the American Educational Research Association, researchers found a strong correlation between family involvement and student achievement. Students with involved family members perform better than those without. Children with engaged family members are more likely to graduate high school. These students are more likely to attend college as well.
ELL guardians want their children to succeed and want to be engaged in their education. But they may need guidance in which ways would be the most beneficial to the child and their teachers. Schools need to inform families that they can partner with their child's teacher. That way, the teacher and the school will gain a better understanding of who their students are and where they come from.
Why increasing accessibility, cultural integration, and ELL family support matters
A child's school should be a warm and welcoming environment for the student and their family. Creating this atmosphere is not a one-size-fits-all situation. ELL families experience that feeling when they see that their culture is accepted and appreciated. Schools can achieve this by providing means for accessible communication.
Translations services are a key resource. They ensure that communication between guardians and schools is reciprocal. Set reasonable expectations so that staff and families understand that these services are being eased in.
ELL families will appreciate the opportunity to view important documents in their language through accessible technology. Opening up the methods of communication will build trust between these families and their schools.
When families trust their schools, they'll feel comfortable cultivating a partnership with teachers. That relationship will give students a sense of belonging and help them excel in school.
All families need the opportunity to be involved with their child’s education. But to level the playing field for everyone, your schools need to ensure it is operating on accessible methods to communicate with all families, no matter the language they speak.
Migrating to accessible technology is a great first step. Schools need to do more than pass translated correspondence back and forth with ELL families. Make sure your school really listens to and understands them.
ELL families have different barriers than English-speaking ones. You can only break them down once you understand what they are.