Somali Community Service of Seattle (SCSS)
Parent School Connection
Parent School Connection, a program of Somali Community Services of Seattle (SCSS), seeks to provide an effective, culturally appropriate means of interaction among Somali parents, students, and the school system. The program is intended to help Seattle area Somali parents, students, and schools communicate and stay actively involved in the children's academic progress, without placing additional economic pressure on the already overburdened budgets of newcomer families or the school system.
Somali parents new to the United States often lack the ability to communicate effectively with teachers or school administrators, SCSS finds. Most Somali newcomers are not literate in Somali or English. Most rely on their children, not only for interpreting, but for navigating the cultural differences in the U.S. education system. Parent School Connection seeks to provide parents a reliable avenue of information other than the child, and expertise in working with the schools to improve educational opportunities for the students.
Somali students having difficulties adjusting to their new environment may come to the program's attention through academic, social, or disciplinary problems. Parent School Connection seeks to be a more appropriate intermediary, a neutral stakeholder in the students' education, helping to find solutions to their educational problems.
Educators and school administrators want to meet with the parents of their students, SCSS recognizes, but because they lack the resources to communicate in a culturally and linguistically appropriate way, often rely on the students themselves. Parent School Connection proposes to make the appropriate cultural and linguistic skill available without expense to the school system.
The Parent School Connection program coordinator works on building relationships with the schools and community through proactive outreach and referrals, among school personnel, and within the Somali community in Seattle. School personnel or parents may contact the program, seeking a third-party intermediary to address problems or facilitate communications. The program coordinator may sometimes initiate contact between the school administration and the family of a student. The project coordinator sometimes helps parents and the schools find bilingual after-school programs to help poorly-performing students.
As liaison between the school and the community, the program coordinator phones and visits the families of the students. The parents thereby can become aware of the situation of their children in the schools, the school are able to engage with the parents, and both get culturally and linguistically appropriate help communicating with each other.
The Parent School Connection coordinator and volunteers encourage Somali parents to learn about the American education system, to visit the schools, and to provide their children a good environment for homework and learning. The program organizes school tours for groups of parents, and arranges individual meetings between parents, teachers and administrators, and students. Parent School Connection encourages parents to participate in Parent Teacher Association meetings, where they get an opportunity to meet with their children's teachers, see the classrooms, and become familiar with the community and system their children are part of for seven or eight hours a day. The program also arranges transportation for the parents to and from all these meetings.
The program serves Somali refugee and immigrant parents, Somali students, and the school system in the Seattle area. During the first part of the 2003 school year, the program worked with approximately five families per month at ten schools: three high schools, three middle schools, and four elementary schools.
This project is exclusively funded as part of Venture Fund by United Way of Seattle.
The program coordinator is assisted by three volunteers.
All staff must have practical experience of culturally appropriate communications skills within the Somali community, and the school system.
Parent School Connection defines success broadly as gains in communication, mutual understanding, cooperation, and participation among Somali parents and students and their schools. This broad success would be visible as the local Somali community and the Seattle area school systems gain a growing mutual understanding and involvement.
Specifically, Parent School Connection sees its success in Somali parents helped to understand and take part in the school system and their children's education; Somali students with improved educational opportunities through better communication with teachers and administration; and educators enabled to work with their Somali students, the students' parents, and the Somali community.
Schools have described the Parent School Connection as "what we have needed for a long time to get community involvement in the education process," according to SCSS. The program reports it is also an empowering tool for many parents to have the opportunity to sit with their children's teachers to share ideas and concerns.
This is a pilot project; when it nears completion a structured questionnaire will be developed with input from schools and the community. Translated into Somali, the questionnaire will be conducted through interviews with parents who participated in the program. The schools served by the project will be asked about the differences they observed during the Parent School Connection project's involvement. A consolidated report will be developed comprising the input of the service recipients, the schools, and the experience of the project throughout the year. The report will also describe the number of persons served.
This program began in 2001; it is no longer operating.