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Finding ways to engage parents who speak English as a second language earned a New Jersey PTO a diversity award.

by Poornima Apte


The Brayton Elementary PTO doesn’t just translate its documents into Spanish, it finds ways to actively engage parents who speak English as a second language. As a result, more parents at the Summit, N.J., school have learned ways to support their students and have become committed members of the PTO.

An ESL teacher and a parent formed the PTO’s Café con Leche committee, which holds meetings in Spanish that focus on academic strategies for ESL students. The prin­cipal and PTO president also attend the meetings. (Translation is provided for non-Spanish-speaking parents.) Common topics include how to help your kids with schoolwork, as well as information about school and community events that might be especially useful for ESL families.

More inclusion leads to better involvement; we’ll help you get started

The group’s outreach is not limited to the Café con Leche meetings. The PTO website is translatable into Spanish with the click of a button. So are the email blasts that the PTO sends to parents.

Particularly impressive is the PTO’s adult ESL program, where a bilingual parent volunteer helps an ESL parent with language skills. These one-on-one tutoring sessions are tailored to meet individual needs. Not only have the sessions helped with the mastery of English; they also have helped forge many friendships.

Past president Meghan Terry says that the greatest positive outcome of the PTO’s ESL outreach programs has been helping ESL families become more confident, productive, and included members of the school and wider community.

“Just recently, we had a student pass the citizenship exam and become a U.S. citizen after working with her ESL volunteer tutor...for five years,” Terry points out. “By supporting both the children and their parents, we can help ensure the future success of the entire family.”

Originally posted in 2015 and updated regularly.

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