Armstrong reaches out to diverse community
Westborough – English language learners (ELL) at Armstrong Elementary School have increased 50 percent over the last few years, and that spurred Principal Jeff Slomski and the school council to think about reaching out to the families of those students.
"Our school council has kind of made it a mission to connect with [the] diverse population," he said. "How can we make sure we're communicating with everyone? And how can we make people feel a part of the school?"
The answers to those questions came in a meeting Feb. 28 with a small group of parents.
"We had an evening where members of the school community that we invited to come … represent some of the different cultures at the school," said Liz Milhomme, a secondgrade teacher and member of the school council. "They loved it. They thought it was a great idea to get together, just getting to share their perceptions."
The meeting attracted only a handful of parents from the 20 or so invitations that went out, but the turnout was not a disappointment, Slomski said.
"I think it's tough for people to get in whenever we have parent things. It's tough for people to get back to school," he said, noting that a couple of the parents took advantage of babysitting that was available. "The quality for the discussion made up for there being not that many people."
Slomski said the discussion was positive.
" "It was free-flowing discussion," he said. "These people reported that they felt included and that they were pretty happy with the communication that was going home."
Even those for whom English is a second language seemed to feel included, Milhomme said.
"This group really felt like they weren't any less included or communicated with because they are not native English speakers, which is good," she said. "We were surprised, but it's good. It was a small sampling, but it was unanimous."
Parent Seema Basu, an active member of the parent group at Armstrong, was also happy with the meeting.
"I liked the size of the group; it seemed intimate," she said. "I think even if it doesn't bring up any burning need, the outreach itself is going to build a bridge."
Seema's daughter, Sanjana, is in first grade, and Seema said she's always been involved in the community in which she's lived. With Sanjana in school, that involvement now revolves around Armstrong, she said. Her work in the parent group put her in contact with Slomski, who invited her to the meeting.
"He's very proactive to be sure Indian families are getting what they need with cultural differences," she said. "You could tell from the parents … [that they] were appreciative of the principal asking them to come in, to ask them what they needed. It was a very good discussion. Nobody's unhappy. They said it might be nice to have more opportunity to meet."
Encouraging that kind of involvement can be important not only to the parents and their sense of belonging, but also to the children and their achievement, Milhomme explained.
"I've actually done a lot of research on parent involvement in schools and a lot of research shows that the more parent involvement you have, you're going to improve school achievement," she said. "Kids are seeing [that] their parents know what's going on in school … and the more open communication, the better the results."
One thing that came up in the discussion is that the parents love events at the school that the whole family can enjoy, such as the family movie nights, Slomski said.
"We're talking about maybe having some other event earlier in the year so parents can connect," he said.
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