Second annual Latino Parent Summit aims to close BVSD opportunity, achievement gaps

Randy Barber

On Saturday morning (10/14/17), Casey Middle School was bustling with activity as families gathered to connect with the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) and community groups.

About 75 people attended the second annual Latino Parent Summit, co-sponsored by the BVSD Department of Instructional Services & Equity, the BVSD Department of Family-School Partnerships, Foothills United Way, Community Foundation Serving Boulder County, ELPASO, AMISTAD, "I Have A Dream" Foundation, Boulder Housing Partners and EFAA.

“The intent is to provide a forum for Latino parents, specifically for those that are Spanish speaking, so they can learn about a variety of topics that can help them to support their children through their educational experience,” said Interim Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services and Equity Dr. Samantha Messier.

After being welcomed by BVSD Interim Superintendent Dr. Cindy Stevenson and a number of sponsors, the families took part in a variety of sessions, held entirely in Spanish.

“I hope what [the Summit] conveys to our families is that we embrace their children and we embrace them as part of our community,” Messier said. “We are dedicated to doing whatever we can do to be more proactive, communicating better, and creating stronger connections between what our teachers are providing in the classroom and what they are providing at home.”

The session topics ranged from societal topics like drug abuse prevention and resources available to Latino families to ways that parents can engage in their child’s education, including information on special education, gifted and talented programs and the READ Act.

“There is one session that is being held about how to support children as readers, which is being led by one our literacy team members who is bilingual,” Messier said.

The topics were suggested by Latino families through listening sessions held by ELPASO prior to the Summit.

“This is not just pulled out of the sky,” said Chris Barge, the vice president of Strategic Initiatives for the Community Foundation of Boulder County. “They are subjects that parents have told us they are interested in.”

The result, according to BVSD Board of Education Director Richard Garcia, was engagement at the event.

“Parents were asking great questions,” said Garcia, who sat in three sessions.

“The parents seem very, very engaged, Messier added. “It is interesting to listen to some of the parents’ questions. For instance, I certainly heard that there are things about the Read Act they do not understand and they had questions about the results of their child’s reading tests. This event has really been helpful in really understanding what specifically they can do to support their kids.”

Messier says that family partnership and the connections between families and educators are key to student achievement. 

“You can have great parents and a great school district, but if the two are not connecting and communicating with each other about how to sync up the resources at home and at school, then you are missing a huge piece of the equation to make things work,” Messier said. “We’ve got some amazing parents here today and hopefully this is helping to bridge that gap and create that connection so that they can be more effective in the way they support their kids.

For this reason, two years ago, as part of the district’s Success Effect Strategic Plan, BVSD made an investment in this work by opening an office of Family-School Partnerships. By encouraging communication and giving families resources, she believes that BVSD could begin addressing some of the achievement gaps seen on state assessments between Latino children and their white peers.

Garcia hopes more parents will take advantage of the Summit next year, and that even more events, like this, are available to them in the future.

“I hope, as a Board and as a school district, we understand the importance of family engagement and parental involvement,” Garcia said. “I keep saying that we have good teachers and good schools, but they alone cannot do the job, without the engagement of families. How do we get the families more engaged in the process of educating their children? What kind of tools do they need to be able to do that work? We know that the white families have the tools, they have the resources to do that. Do the Latino families have the same resources? No. What do they need to be able to do that well?”

Barge says it is the involvement of parents, like those at the Summit, that will ensure that more and more resources are available in the future.

“As our county gets more and more diverse and our values are aligned more and more about equal opportunity, inclusivity and diversity that is here, we need to be pointed towards a day when the parents that you see in this school today are not just driving the conversation, but driving the system’s resources towards what they best know is needed,” Barge said.

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