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English Learning Community

About Our Education Forums

The Vacaville Unified School District, English Learner Department and Adult Education, in partnership with St. Mary’s Catholic Church of Vacaville joined forces to create monthly education forums to bridge the cultural barriers that Hispanic parents face, help them understand the vital role they play in their child’s education and build capacity within their community.  Other partners include Solano County Office of Education, Kaiser Permanente, La Guadalajara Restaurant, Solano County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Solano County Educational Consortium Center for Education Partnership.

Historically, the challenge has been minimal participation at the school levelfrom the Hispanic community due to cultural and communication barriers. Meeting parents where they are is a key goal of these forums which are held for 30 minutes immediately following the Spanish Mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church.  The strong Hispanic presence already thriving at the church provides a safe and welcoming environment for parents to get information, share experiences, and address the concerns they have regarding their children.  The primary goal is to help Hispanic parents learn the importance of involvement in their children’s education for success. Sustained, positive impact can be achieved when parents seek knowledge, have high expectations for their children, and are active advocates for their children’s education.

The goals of the Education Forum are:

  1. Increase the involvement of English Language Learner parents in their child’s educational needs.
  2. Build parent empowerment and advocacy for their children’s educational needs through a forum that gives parents “voice.”
  3. Educate parents about Vacaville Unified School District, curriculum, STAR & CELDT results, the importance of parent conferences, children’s health, school events and cultural barriers.

In addition because the district has been working with Kaiser Permanente to provide healthy snacks for the primary grades throughout the district, the St Mary’s Education Forums provided the perfect outlet to model healthy snacks to Hispanic parents.This ensured that the “healthy eating, active living” message reached this population, especially to those who do not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.  La Guadalajara Restaurant provides the healthy snacks at deeply discounted rates in addition to gift certificates to the restaurant reinforcing healthy meal options.   

Using the Cycle of Inquiry as our management practice, parents are given the opportunity at the end of each session to write their concerns and comments on a form with their children’s names, schools, and contact information.  These comments, in turn, are acted upon by connecting the appropriate personnel including site principals and resources with the families within the weeks following the forum.  The forms are also used to gather information about trends and parent concerns. Topics and speakers for future forums are gleaned from the responses. 

As an example, when we first began the Education Forums there were many questions about gangs.  The following month Randy Henry, Director of Learning Support Alternative Programs came to speak on “pandillas”.  His message gave parents the knowledge and support they needed and assured them that the Vacaville School District is working in coordination with the Vacaville Police Department.   Parents were able to ask questions.  Specific problems and situations were written down and Mr. Henry followed up with the families within the week.

Principal Sylvia Rodriguez offered her own unique perspective on cultural crossroads, stressing the importance of attending parent/teacher conferences.  She was able to relate her personal story, the difficulties she faced as an immigrant child and what parents need to do to insure their children’s success in school.  She addressed the differences between the school system in Mexico and that of the United States.  She focused on the right of parents to have a translator and the law that gives parents the right to leave work to attend conferences.

Principal Manolo Garcia addressed California English Language Development Test (CELDT) results.    Mr. Garcia used a graphic of the hand and fingers to demonstrate the five levels of English proficiency and then explained the CELDT results. Esteban Vargas, father of four, said afterwards, “I have been here many years.  This is the first time I understood what this test is about.” 

When the H1N1 first broke out in Vacaville, parents were calling the schools with concerns.  Our Forum topic was changed mid-week. School nurse Tish Widemann explained precautions for parents to take and how the school district planned to monitor a potential outbreak with procedures for school closures. 

All forums are presented in Spanish.  Translators are provided for speakers when needed.  This gives the parents the opportunity for direct communication with the speakers.  Each session includes at least one person with a personal story of success which relays the difficulties and the perseverance needed to be successful.  These testimonials give parents support and encouragement to advocate for their children’s future success.

The response to the program has been incredibly positive with 150 – 300 participants each month.  Schools have noticed increasing numbers of parents participating in school activities.  English Learner Coordinator Jane Luick remarks “93% of our English Learners are Hispanic and the vast majority is Catholic.  Attending school meetings is difficult.  With this innovative approach the district is able to meet the parents where they are, creating a venue to inform and reinforce the need for involvement.  We have seen a significant increase in participation in our District English Learner Advisory Committee (DELAC) after the Forums started.”

With a message of involvement resounding throughout the event, each participant walks away with a sense of empowerment and support in raising his or her child to be a healthy, successful student and contributing member of society.  It takes dedicated community members including leaders from both the school district and the church to build the capacity to further impact student achievement.