Immigrant students have the highest dropout rate of all students in the public school system (Sibley and Braback, 2017, p.137). There are many factors that contribute to this statistic but one of the most notable is the lack of immigrant parental engagement. Parents interacting with their child’s schools allows for the child to feel a sense of community, allows the teacher a different perspective on the students and gives parents the chance to assist their children with homework and transitioning. There are many obstacles that hinder this immigrant parental engagement in the urban education system. Different grassroots organizations have taken different approaches to helping bridge this gap between schools and parents. In the microcosm of New York City, CentroNYC and WeSpeak NYC focus on providing English Second Language classes to parents so that they can better communicate with their children and teachers. Also in New York City, the Immigrant Learning Center also provides English Classes but, in addition, these classes also teach adults how to become economically and socially sufficient. This helps bridge the cultural divide that prevents many parents from knowing how or what to communicate with their kid’s teachers. Outside of New York City, groups such as We Are One America, which is based in Washington state, and AYPAL which is based in Oakland, CA, helps parents become technologically and financially literate. Similar to the Immigrant Learning Center, this helps bridge the cultural divide. CT4aDream has a different focus, instead of focusing on assisting assimilation, they help families and students establish themselves legally in the United States. In teaching parents how to advocate for themselves and their student’s education, they are promoting engagement. Grassroots organizing is an effective tool at promoting parental engagement because it allows both the student and the parent to be involved in creating effective change and incorporates the parents previous knowledge to be respected and used as an advantage.
One of biggest challenges in these organizations is the vulnerability of the focus population. These parents are struggling with establishing themselves legally in the United States so many of them do not want to participate in public events or classes (AYPAL). Another challenge is that even though there is “… over 9 million adults in the U.S. who are considered linguistically isolated” and 10% of the population can only speak limited English (We are One America), many adults do not seek out help because of familial and job obligations. In allowing the parents to be involved in the process of change, this removes many of these barriers and creates an environment that is much more effective at teaching and learning. The student will also benefit from this type of organizing because, as stated in The Immigrant Learning Center website, the parents are able to learn their expectations in a low-stress environment.
Parental engagement is a complex issue that requires radical solutions and creative thinking. The value of grassroots organizations such as the ones mentioned are invaluable because they promote student led learning. With the parents in the student role, they are able to better learn how to help their children.