Center for Educational Transformation

Exploring Models of Bicultural Parent Engagement to Address Academic Achievement for Immigrant Youth

Carolyn Colvin

Carolyn Colvin

RESEARCHER: Carolyn Colvin, Associate Professor, University of Iowa

DISTRICT PARTNER(S): Columbus, West Liberty


ABSTRACT: Rural school districts in Iowa have been transformed by the arrival of immigrant families. Both school faculty/administrators and immigrant parents are challenged in the way they must learn to effectively communicate across differences in language and culture. Parent-teacher communication most often takes place around the institutionalized activities of parent-teacher conferences as it is these points of contact that provide opportunities to share and discuss information concerning academic progress for the children of immigrant parents. Extensive research exists that documents mainstream parents' involvement in schools (for example, see Epstein, 1986; Epstein Dauber, 1991). More recently, researchers have begun to examine parent involvement for immigrant parents, specifically Latino parents (Valdez, 1997). However, parent involvement models tend to reflect dominant mainstream practices for how parents can serve as advocates for their children. Notably, in much of the existing research, parent voices and perspectives are absent.

For this study, four elementary teachers, four Spanish-speaking parents, and four parents from Laos were recruited to explore through interviews how each participant understood the purposes of and prepared for parent-teacher conferences. Questions guiding this research included the perceived purposes of parent-teacher conferences, conference preparation, and participants' perceptions of conferences as sites for effective communication. Analysis will occur using grounded theory (Corbin & Strauss, 1998). The outcome of data analysis will inform a model for bicultural parent engagement for possible implementation at the local school site where I am involved. A parent engagement model might be applicable for other school sites where large numbers of immigrant/recently-arrived families reside.


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