A new group seeks to fight language barriers in Bridgeport schools

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We are mothers who are fighting against the notion that Hispanic parents do not get involved in their children’s education.

We understand that united we are strong and we will not get discouraged despite all the obstacles we find at Bridgeport public schools.

We are immigrant mothers committed to the education of our children and face the common hurdle of having limited command of the English language. We come from Mexico, Ecuador, Guatemala and Puerto Rico. Our children represent an estimated 58 percent of the student population of the public school system in Bridgeport, and yet the system does not include us.

The main obstacles immigrant parents face in supporting the education of our children and getting involved is a language barrier. At parent-teacher conferences, for example, a crucial moment to keep track of the progress or challenges of our children, there are no interpreters. Our questions go unanswered, and our worries increase when we find no ways to understand the issues our children need help with.

Many parents we know have attended meetings but have stop participating out of frustration. We often feel our children are treated unfairly because their parents can’t communicate, that the method of discipline is always harsher on immigrant children and that some are behind academically because there is no reliable way for parents to effectively communicate with school officials.

We are here to change that. We have a group called Parents in Action, and with the help of Make the Road Connecticut we are voicing our concerns and taking actions.

We have surveyed over 200 parents to better understand our needs. These surveys will eventually turn into a report we will make public. Our group of parents has met with teachers, principals, elected officials and other stakeholders to make Bridgeport schools more welcoming for parents who want to get involved, regardless of language or ethnic background. Without parent support, our children would not be able to succeed.

It is understood that English is the language used at public schools, but we can’t let the language limitations of parents make our children fail. That is not fair when we have a huge population of immigrant students in similar situations.

There are already some positive changes happening. At the Geraldine Johnson School, we have a bilingual secretary for the first time in the more than seven years we have been bringing our children to that school.

We have also met with Interim Superintendent Aresta Johnson and expressed our concerns about the lack of inclusivity where all parents are invited to participate. This has led to interpretation equipment and an interpreter during districtwide budget forums. In these two instances, we have felt that the school administration understands our frustration and is listening to us.

That’s a first step. We also would like to see schools add bilingual materials in all the correspondence they send us home. We no longer want to ask the security guard instead of the teacher or have a 4-year-old serve as a translator. We are here to work with teachers and school officials to make that happen.

Sandra Sotamba has a child attending Madison School and another Fairchild Wheeler Magnet School. Gabriela Gómez has three children attending Geraldine Johnson School.

What do you think?

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