Research You Can Use
Maria Morales-Thomas, principal at South Ranchito Dual Language Academy in El Rancho USD, wrote the dissertation, “A phenomenological study of practices that promote Latino parent engagement in an urban elementary school,” toward her doctoral degree from Pepperdine University in educational leadership administration and policy, April 2015.
This dissertation examines the perceptions of Latino parent engagement with parents of English language learners in a Southern Californian elementary school. The qualitative research study utilizes a phenomenological approach that explores the experiences and frustrations of identified parents through focus group interviews.
The study sought to examine the best practices related to parent engagement and major barriers that prevented them from being active participants in school activities or in the decision-making processes at their school site.
While this study allowed the researcher to identify Latino parents’ experiences in one urban elementary school, it also provided a deeper understanding of how Latino parents of English language learners defined parent engagement.
Parents in the study viewed best practices for engagement as stemming from strong relationships with key stakeholders, the principal and teachers, and reported wanting to be a family. Parents perceived lack of information, communication, and parent activities as barriers that prevented them from being engaged in their children’s school.
Finally, the study revealed that engagement for parents of ELL students does happen when a school establishes the infrastructure needed to initiate and nurture parent engagement.
Questions: There are two questions that guided this work: 1) What do parents of ELL students perceive to be the most meaningful practices that encourage engagement? 2) What do parents of ELL students perceive to be the barriers that prevent them from being engaged in the total school environment?
Sample: The participants in this study were Latino parents who had children attending an urban elementary school and whose children had been designated English language learners. Parent participants were either fluent English speakers or beginning English speakers. Focus group interviews were conducted with no more than six parents present at each session. The parents were required to have children who consistently attended the school site for three or more years.
The school site is located in an urban area of Southern California. There were 426 students at the site at the time of the study and 175 (41 percent) were identified as ELL. Spanish is their primary language other than English, with Arabic and Hindi speakers represented in the ELL population. The student ethnic background at the time of the study comprised 73 percent Hispanic, 24 percent African American, 0.07 percent White not Hispanic, 0.02 percent Asian, and 0.02 percent two or more races not Hispanic. Seventy-seven percent of the students were identified as socioeconomically disadvantaged.
Results: Thirteen parents participated in this study across the structured focus groups. Although a variety of themes surfaced with respect to how parents of ELL students define parent engagement (Joyce Epstein, 2009), a concrete definition with reference to a physical presence, included:
(a) assisting in the classroom
(b) participating in the school
(c) visible presence
(e) parent-student interaction while at school
Additionally, when parents were asked what they perceive to be the most meaningful engagement practices, parents reported that the concept of “community” was an essential element in any activity (Moll et al., 1992). The data demonstrates that parents want to:
(a) feel connected to the school
(b) interact with the principal
(c) interact with teachers
(d) support student educational experiences
Finally, when asked what they perceived to be the barriers that prevent them from being engaged in the school, parents responded that when the following elements were lacking they opted not to take part in school experiences:
(b) communication from the school
(c) parent activities included in school events
A school newsletter for parents, referred to as Flash, was a reminder of upcoming events, volunteer training opportunities, and parent workshops being offered at the district office. The Flash also included staff news on professional development sessions for teachers, information regarding operation and maintenance of the school, student activities, teacher deadlines, and state testing information.
The Flash was seen by the parents of this study as a one-way communication tool and did not involve reciprocal communication between parents and the school (Jasis & Ordoñez-Jasis, 2012).
Implications: A significant implication of the study is that school districts put too many roadblocks and regulations for parents to participate in their children’s schooling. For example, in order for parents to volunteer, the parents in this study had to be fingerprinted, submit proof of a tuberculosis exam, and take three courses provided by the school district at the district offices.
While these security measures are important for a healthy and safe school environment, parents want to comply with these requirements at their local school rather than at the district offices (Valdés, 1996). Additionally, the principal, who is seen as the leader of the school, is sometimes viewed by parents as lacking the communication skills needed to explain how funding is accessed and prioritized. Parents wonder about the investments and if they encourage parent engagement and improve student achievement. In other words, parents understand the link between their participation and that of their children’s academic achievement.
As the Latino English learner parent population increases across the country, parents and teachers need spaces where they can jointly learn from each other and support the needs of each other as partners in the education of English learner students.
English classes, parent-led workshops and opportunities to be part of the decision-making processes on school committees are examples of how schools and district leadership can support Latino parent engagement. District leadership must encourage and provide support to principals as they grow and nurture a school culture that keeps the needs of the marginalized communities at the forefront.
Research You Can Use is a periodic feature of EdCal that provides an opportunity for ACSA members to share their dissertation research. Publication of these summaries does not represent endorsement by ACSA of any specific program, policy or strategy. Dissertation summaries written by ACSA members in the past five years are welcome, along with a photograph of the researcher and present job title and location. If you have recent research to share, prepare a two-to-three page summary (750-1,200 words), including vital statistics and conclusions. Email summary and photo to Cary Rodda, EdCal editor, firstname.lastname@example.org.