Culturally Responsive Family Engagement

By Heer Shaikh, Program Success Manager

Sahteen” (صحتين) means “double health.” People wish each other “Sahteen” before and after eating. It’s one of the bits and pieces of culture I squirreled away when learning Arabic as a kid. There’s no equivalent in English or any of the other languages that were part of my childhood.

When I was growing up in Pakistan, my parents insisted on speaking with me in our native language. They stressed that our language informs our culture. I spoke Sindhi at home, Urdu with my friends, and English at school. Later, I studied Arabic. I often found myself combining elements of all these languages to make sense of my thoughts and the languages themselves. There is always a word or a thought that can’t be translated from one language to another.

Many of the students we serve at Ready4K also live in this multicultural realm. They speak English at school, and communicate in a different language at home.

November 17, 2021


Supporting Immigrant Families for School Success

Looking for additional ways to engage immigrant and refugee families?

Join this free lunch and learn.

When families receive information in their own language, it makes a huge difference. Sometimes it’s the only thread allowing them to understand what’s happening at school. It has to make sense culturally as well. In the same way that Sahteen has no translation, there are many other elements of education and culture that don’t always translate.

In fact, research shows that culturally responsive communication is one of the most important elements in engaging families. Culture sets the tone for how families interact with schools. A caregiver’s culture will determine what they believe they can and should do for their child’s education. It’s no surprise, then, that reaching families in a culturally responsive way has a direct, positive impact on student success.

Bringing Help to English Learners

Even before the pandemic, many students who are learning English were struggling to master grade-level content and learn English. These students were deeply impacted by school closures caused by the pandemic. Engaging parents as at-home learning partners has become even more important.

Khuyến khích cũng như giúp chúng tôi dạy bé tốt hơn (The texts encourage us and help us teach him better)”

Ready4K Parent

We examined the results of our latest quarterly parent survey to examine the impact of digital family engagement on non-English speaking families. To do this, we studied the responses from 898 non-English speaking families in one of our large partner school districts. This allowed us to develop a better understanding of their experiences.

In an anonymous survey, we asked families whether they found the messages helpful. Overall, 91% of all respondents reported finding the messages helpful or very helpful. However, 98% of Spanish speaking families and 100% of Arabic and Vietnamese speaking families reported that Ready4K was helpful or very helpful in supporting their parenting.

When asked about the ways in which Ready4K has been helpful, we heard:

Mi sobrino no conocía las letras. Tiene 6 años y mi hija de 22 le ayuda con todos sus consejos de uds y ahora ya escribe su nombre, y sabe muchas otras cosas.” (My nephew did not know his letters. He is 6 years old and my 22 year-old daughter helps him with all your tips and now he writes his name and knows many other things.)

“Khuyến khích cũng như giúp chúng tôi dạy bé tốt hơn (The texts encourage us and help us teach him better)”

“Porque que tengo dos hijos pequeños y aprendimos muchas cosa que no sabiamos (Because I have two small children and we learn a lot of things we did not know)”

culturally responsive family engagement

Engagement at Work

We wanted to understand how often families do Ready4K activities with their children. It turns out that Spanish and Arabic-speaking families used Ready4K nearly twice as much as English-speaking families, and found the activities to be helpful and important.

When asked in an anonymous survey, 100% of Spanish-speaking, 92% of Chinese-speaking, 100% of Arabic-speaking, and 80% of Vietnamese speaking families reported that they do activities at least one per week. A staggering 35% of Spanish-speaking families reported doing Ready4K activities more than 3 times per week. This is a significant difference compared to all families, including English-only homes, where 85% of families use the messages each week.

As a follow-up, we asked families to share their favorite Ready4K activities. They said:

“Me ayudaron a con las estrategias tan sencillas como contar a la hora de lavar platos, yo nisiquiera había pensado aplicar matemáticas en un momento así, y estas ideas me ayudan mucho con mi hijo, gracias (It helped with simple strategies such as counting when washing dishes, I had not even thought about applying mathematics at such a time, and these ideas help me a lot with my son, thanks)”

El ejercicio de respirar hondo antes de dormir me sirvió para mis dos hijos, de 6 y 8 años, porque han tenido días en que no podían dormir. (Deep breathing exercises before bed helped me with my six and 8 year old boys because they have had days when they could not sleep.)”

culturally responsive family engagement

对物品进行计数,因为可以在简单的家务上提高孩子对数学的兴趣,而且还可以增加亲子交流 ([My favorite activity is finding] Items to count, because it can increase children’s interest in mathematics and simple household chores, but also can increase parent-child communication).”

What is the Impact?

Finally, we wanted to understand how useful the messages are for parents. And so, we asked a series of questions to gauge the impact these text messages have had on their child’s development. The outcome was that 98% of Spanish-speaking, 96% of Chinese-speaking, 100% of Arabic-speaking and Vietnamese speaking families reported that Ready4K has helped their child learn and grow.

变得懂事了,多了交流,谢谢你们。([My son is] becoming wiser, and we have more exchanges, thank you.)

Families also shared that receiving messages with easy to do activities helped them connect more with their children. At the same time, receiving messages in their home language gave parents access to concrete ways to support their child’s education. Families were overwhelmingly willing to do the activities, and found them useful.

culturally responsive family engagement

The Power of Connection

At ParentPowered, home of Ready4K, multilingual family engagement is a priority. Across the United States, we serve over 400,000 families in English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian, and Hmong. We developed a custom Ready4K program in Somali for families in Minnesota. We created a cultural version of our program in Potawatomi for a Native American tribe in Forest County, Wisconsin. Most recently, we are translating Ready4K in Nepali, Karen, and Swahili for families in New York.

Looking for additional ways to engage immigrant and refugee families? Join us November 17 for a free lunch and learn with Volunteers in Medicine Berkshires and the Immigrant Family Liaison at the Berkshire Hills School District.

In doing all of this work, one of our guiding beliefs is that content has to be culturally relevant. We work carefully with translators to ensure that the activities we are suggesting make sense linguistically and culturally. You can learn more about that process in our recent post Home Language Matters.

These insights are in line with what people are saying about multilingual family engagement. Laura Gardner from Immigrant Connections encourages educators to stay connected to the fact that they are engaging with immigrant families. She also highlights the importance of providing equal access to information. Karen Mapp’s Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships calls for mutual trust and culturally responsive, respectful processes.

At the end of the day, we know that culturally responsive engagement can make all the difference in a student’s life. Research shows that Ready4K’s program engages parents as learning partners. When parents do the activities, it increases student outcomes by 2-3 months over an academic year. By engaging families of English Learners, we hope to help these students overcome some of the challenges they face in school.

There’s a Grant for That

Equity is a cornerstone value of ParentPowered, home of Ready4K. That’s why we’re thrilled to offer qualifying organizations an Equity Grant – to ensure our high quality family curriculum is available in every community. Learn more here.

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