by Laurel Conran, ESOL Team Leader, Howard County Public Schools, MDTESOL Elementary IS Co-Chair
As an ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) teacher, I spend my summers traveling abroad to increase my cultural proficiency and knowledge of educational and language barriers that my international families face daily. This summer I had a wonderful opportunity to study abroad and to discover the Mediterranean culture in Calabria on the southern tip of Italy. The view of the vistas across the rugged mountains, cosmic golden wheat fields and crystal clear seas and the age old olive trees that grow as tall as eucalyptus took me back into history. I was able to walk the streets of medieval towns and tour the beautiful Byzantine churches. I was able to experience the opulent language and culture of Calabrese. I was able to practice the language in real-life environments with the townspeople at the fruttivendolo (fruit vendor), ristorante (restaurant), panetteria (bakery), pasticceria (pastry shop-cafe`), edicola (newspaper and magazine stand), etc. They welcomed me with an insurmountable hospitality at the supermarkets, pubs and stores.
Most of the merchants had studied English as a foreign language in both high schools and universities. However, many may not have had the opportunity to interactively speak English. Therefore, I facilitated several English conversational classes for the Calabrese. Michelangelo La Luna, Ph.D., the program director wanted to open this relatively unknown area of rich culture and history to American tourism, so with the assistance of Giovanni Braico , a student intern, coordinated the townspeople interested in increasing their English-speaking conversational skills. Not only were the people receptive to conversing in English, the Calabrese introduced me to the romance language of Italian, idiomatic expressions, culture, as well as the Arbëreshë (pronounced Arbesh) culture.
I met Giovanni Braico, who is fluent in Italian, Spanish, English, as well as his regional dialect. Presently, he is attending the Università della Calabria in Arcavacata di Rende working towards his Masters in Languages and Modern Literatures, Philology, Linguistics and Translation. I asked Giovanni to provide me with the history of the languages in Calabria.
The languages spoken in Calabria are Italian, Calabrese dialects, (which are not officially recognized as different languages and they change from town to town) and Arbëreshë, which is spoken only in small towns in some of the regions in Calabria. The Arbëreshë language has evolved from the old Albanion language of the 15th century and has inevitably been influenced by both the Italian language and Calabrese dialects throughout the centuries. Arbëreshë still preserves some features of the Albanian spoken in pre-Ottoman Albania. The language is not legally recognized (only the village of Hora e Arbëreshëvet in Sicily recognizes the Arbëreshë language), nor is it a written language. Arbëreshë, the social language of some Calabrese, is learned on the street and passed down from generation to generation. Unfortunately, some Arbëreshë has been lost in this process. Periodically, the media comes for a cover story on the preservation of the language. Albanian, which is different from Arbëreshë, is taught as a foreign language to preserve the language at Liceo Ginnasio High School in San Demetrio It is not taught in any other Arbëreshë town.
Like Giovanni, many of the Calabrese/Italians are well educated with university degrees and have a wealth of knowledge and experience. However, with the high unemployment rate in Italy, and other countries alike, many people come to America for employment and other opportunities. Immigrants coming to America face language and cultural barriers. As I have learned from Giovanni, many immigrants coming to America have difficulty learning English because they have a national language and want to preserve their historical language and regional dialects.
However, adult immigrants in the United States need to be able to communicate with their children’s classroom teachers, and so they must be knowledgeable of the educational system in the United States. The collaboration between home and school that is emphasized in the United States may not exist in immigrants’ native countries. Therefore, these families need assistance to bridge this cultural difference.
The increasing cultural and linguistic diversity resulting from the increase in enrollment of English Language Learners challenges school administrators and teachers to involve international parents who are unfamiliar with the American educational system. Parents from linguistic and racial minority cultures and communities often observe their role and the school’s role in educating their children differently mainly because school traditions and customs in their home country differ considerably from those in American schools. As a result, families may rarely visit the school, meet teachers, or volunteer in school events. School administrators, teachers, and staff can strengthen communication with international families by promoting and supporting parental involvement and student achievement. The goal is to strengthen community services and organizations across the county to ensure that all English language learning communities have equal access to all information and resources about their school system’s policies, and academic resources to excel academic achievement. Using the handbook, Raising Children in a New Country, I propose the following to help our international families assimilate into their new culture.
Communication with English Language Learning Parents
According to the BRYC (Bridging Refugee Youth & Children Services) illustrated handbook, Raising Children in a New Country, “the key to begin the open lines of communication is to decide on the school’s priorities when it comes to ELLs and their parents. The collaboration of the principal, ESOL teacher, PTA, and bilingual liaison plays a key role in many ways by setting school-wide goals that establish the achievement of English language learners, provide ongoing directions and monitoring of curricular and instructional strategies, and promote a good physical and social and safe environment. To accomplish these, there needs to be a strong interest in parental involvement and collaboration/partnership with school staff and community businesses. Administrators could stress the recruitment of racial, linguistic, and cultural minority parents and accentuate the importance of creating a warm and welcoming environment. One way to begin is to plan one or more parent evening meetings to create an open communication by building a bridge between home, school, administration, and the community.
International families come to America with a wealth of parenting strengths, drawing on their traditions, culture, and family experiences. Coming to America, they have sacrificed tremendously to give their children an opportunity for a better education and to excel in this new country. However, newcomer parents often need assistance adapting to their new physical environment with unaccustomed dangers; the loss of extended family and community support, and family role changes.”
Using these following steps may help facilitate one of your first outreach programs in your county/school:
- Establish a plan and desired outcomes for parent involvement. Provide basic information newcomer families need to know about their school, U.S. laws, parenting practices, and PTA organized conversational.
- Identify the families who could benefit from participation. Newcomer Parents with low levels of English proficiency with children preschool age to teenagers in high school may need to learn new ideas on how to teach math and reading.
- Determine the logistics. Outreach programs can be held for newcomer families in the school, churches, community centers or businesses.
- Plan and implement general marketing and publicity of the programs. Post signs of the outreach events at neighborhood stores, restaurants, etc.
- Recruit community resources of targeted immigrant and refugee families of acclimated successful students.
- Identify what information should be presented and provide handouts in English and the predominant language(s) of a majority of the parents. Parent and Teacher conferences, public health information, Code of Conduct, school events such as “Pajama Day”
- Plan for a means to collect surveys (both school and families) to determine if more meetings are needed and determine the frequency. Surveys may be translated into parents’ first language.
Facilitating outreach programs for international families and engaging them in learning English and their new culture connects them to their children’s education, school and the people in their community!