Question: Working with immigrant parents?

My PTO has very little parent involvement. Half the group consists of teachers, but they don’t feel that it’s their job to do anything. The parents who are part of the group don’t speak English, don’t have transportation, or have little kids and can’t get away without a sitter. I end up doing everything myself, and I am frustrated and tired of being the only one worried about a big schoolwide event. How do I get teachers to help out more than just showing up for the event? And how do I use my parents who don’t really speak the language and can’t make flyers, call other parents, or run errands?

Asked by



Advice from PTO Today

Elly writes:

Elly is sorry to hear you’re so burned out. She also thinks you might be worrying about some of the wrong things. The main issue is connecting the school and the parent group to parents with limited English-speaking abilities. There may be a reason these parents don’t participate: In certain cultures, for example, parent involvement at school isn’t emphasized. The language barrier also makes it difficult for these families to feel comfortable attending meetings and teacher conferences or to assist with programs or events.

Be patient while you assimilate these parents into your school community. As a first step, try to identify a bilingual mom or dad from that community to work on outreach with you. By connecting with that parent first, you will gain a valuable champion who can take the PTO’s message to other families and help figure out ways to make it easier for them to participate.

If you can’t find such a parent, think about asking a high school language teacher or the ESL instructor at a local college to help translate flyers and PTO brochures. That way, these families can learn about your group and understand how they can help their children succeed at school. (There are a number of Spanish-language tools on the File Exchange.)

But even a little creative planning can help overcome involvement barriers. Elly loves how PTO parents at Winograd Elementary in Greeley, Colo., combated child-care and transportation issues: For a burrito dinner and family fun night, they hired a bus to pick up and drop off families within the 10-mile radius of their school. Leaders there say the event drew parents who otherwise wouldn’t have attended, and it paved the way for their future involvement.

As for those teachers: Sure, more involvement would be nice; who would turn down extra volunteers, right? But Elly thinks it’s fabulous that they show their support for the PTO by attending events. If your group creates an atmosphere where the teachers feel they can do an even better job educating the kids—and where all parents feel like part of the school community—give yourselves a pat on the back for a job well done.

Answer this question: