Ensuring that every family at school understands your involvement message is one of the toughest jobs for any parent group; the task can be especially daunting at schools with a large number of parents who are foreign-born or who possess limited English skills. But at MacMillan International Academy in Montgomery, Ala.—a school serving families from almost two dozen countries—PTA leaders would tell you that variety is the spice of involvement life.
Personal outreach begins early with open house and orientation. PTA leaders set up a membership table where international families and other new parents can learn about the school, sign up for volunteer opportunities, and get a sneak preview of the year’s fundraising campaigns and products. “International parents can see exactly what we mean when we later say we’ll be selling cookie dough tubs or coupon books,” explains MacMillan PTA President Lee Farrow.
A team of parents translate for international families; others serve as mentors, answering questions as they arise. Last year, parent leaders held two multicultural nights; attendees wore native dress and brought finger foods from their homelands.
But nothing has been more instrumental in reaching out to foreign-born families than the PTA’s simple, straightforward, and easy-to-read newsletter. It offers timely tips about school and parent group activities so they can avoid embarrassing or uncomfortable encounters at the school. “Phrases like ‘individually wrapped candy’ can be confusing to international parents,” Farrow says, “and result in individually wrapped boxes of candy.”