They’re here to help

Published 10:54 am Monday, October 13, 2008

About 75 families in the Austin Public School District do not have English-speaking parents, and staff called “success coaches” have made parent-teacher communication possible.

“Our primary thing is to make sure the connection between teachers and parents happens,” said Valentina Gallegos, a Mexico native and success coach at Southgate Elementary who has worked in the school district eight years.

Formerly known as “interpreters,” the schools have changed the title because they “encourage parents to become more involved in their kids’ education,” said Olivia Gonzalez, a success coach at the Community Learning Center.

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Each of the schools in the district has a success coach who meets monthly with Hispanic families. They translate notes and encourage parents to become involve in their children’s education by coming to conferences, helping them at home, and “to make them understand the system of the schools here in the U.S.,” Gallegos said.

Gonzalez explained that where some of these families come from — rural Mexico — they expected the schools to handle their children’s education, and were very much hands-off.

“Bottom line — it’s their responsibility,” Gonzalez said of parents. “They are the first and foremost responsible for their education.”

Success coaches and the district are pushing parents to not only become more involved, but start their children in school at an earlier age.

“The sooner the better… to encourage kids to learn as soon as possible, to read to them at home,” Gonzalez said.

“If you get involved, you are going to see how your kids are going to do much better in school,” Gallegos agreed. “It doesn’t matter where you come from.

“I remember my first years in the district…” said Gallegos, who has been in the U.S. 25 years. “Not having parents come to conferences or come to concerts.”

This the second year the Austin Public School District has used success coaches, and they are living up to their name — almost 100 percent of Hispanic parents came to recent conferences.

Lori Henry, who coordinates the success coaches, said even just talking with your child at home — even in Spanish — can make a huge difference that can last a lifetime. It’s communication that’s important, no matter the language.

“That’s a growing problem,” Henry said. “We want them to talk, talk, talk, whether it’s in Spanish or Sudanese.”

The schools have also been promoting preschool as a way for kids to prepare for kindergarten and interact with other children.

“The earlier the better,” Gallegos said. “Just giving them the info — that’s all it takes.”

In Woodson Kindergarten Center, 42 percent of students are minorities; most are Hispanic. Eighteen percent of students in the district are Hispanic.

However, Henry said, the majority of the students were born in the U.S.