Colorado African Organization
Refugee Parent Engagement Project
Program Objectives and Unique Needs Addressed
Consistently, research has shown that parental involvement is a major and critical contributor to student success. Numerous teachers throughout Colorado reported that refugee parents were continually "no shows" at Parent-Teacher conferences, and that refugee parent involvement at their schools was essentially non-existent. While schools faced challenges communicating with newcomer refugee parents (across language and culture) about critical issues affecting their students, newcomer refugee parents expressed frustration around their inability to navigate the United States school system and support youth education in a new country. Critical disconnects between parent-child, parent-school, and community-schools are addressed through this project with the support of refugee "Community Navigators" who serve as "points of contact" for newcomer refugee parents and refugee-impacted schools.
In collaboration with Refugee School Impact Grant (RSIG) partner programs in Colorado, Colorado African Organization's Refugee Parent Engagement Project provides an additional mechanism for supporting refugee student success by increasing interactions and strengthening partnerships between refugee parents and school teachers.
Unique Needs Addressed
- Need for increased refugee parent involvement in child/youth education in the U.S.
- Need for better communication between school personnel and refugee parents and communities
- Need for increased refugee parent/community representation in school based-programming and input in school planning and policy implementation
- Need for refugee parents' increased understanding of U.S. school system in order to better advocate for child and parent needs, navigate the system, and access critical school resources to support student integration and student success
- To educate newcomer refugee community members in parental rights, roles, and responsibilities in youth education in the U.S.
- To increase participation of refugee parents and communities in school-based programming
- To assist newcomer refugee parents to become active participants in youth education
- To provide linkages between schools and refugee communities
- To increase the ability of teachers to access community resources and informal supports for addressing individual student concerns and to increase the number of students/families accessing community resources
- To build partnerships among refugee communities and public schools
- To create greater cohesion between school teachers and refugee parents to support refugee student success
- To increase the number of parents and teachers able to communicate across languages and cultures
"Community Navigators" from newcomer refugee communities are chosen based on their leadership in their respective communities and interest or background in education. They are trained in a "Train-the-Trainer" model and facilitate the following:
- Parent Workshops: Community Navigators are trained in a "Parent Engagement" curriculum and utilize this curriculum as a foundation to facilitate informal, participatory, home-based, educational workshops with newcomer refugee parents in their communities. Workshops cover topics including "Attendance Policies," "In-Home Parent Support," "Homework," "Communication with Schools," "Parent-Teacher Conferences," etc. and incorporate school-specific information from parent and student handbooks of neighborhood schools. Other topics covered include school-specific resources and programming, parent rights and responsibilities, discipline in American schools, online access to student grades and attendance records, the grading system, and report cards/progress reports. At least one workshop a month is held and guest speakers such as school counselors, ELA teachers, or school district staff join. Parent participants are recruited through home visits in apartment complexes, outreach at community events, or ethnic gatherings, and through collaboration with case managers and school enrollment coordinators at local resettlement agencies.
- Facilitating Parent Involvement: Community Navigators disseminate information from schools to parents in their communities on a regular basis through home-visitations, educational workshops, or phone calls. They encourage community and parental participation in school meetings, events, and programming through mechanisms such as advertising parent/teacher conferences in native languages, arranging carpooling and walking groups to schools for events, and conveying the importance of parental involvement in workshops. Furthermore, they support the refugee community in their efforts to strengthen partnerships that better link refugee children and families with school personnel and broader community service providers.
- Linking Refugee Communities to Schools: With guidance from a program coordinator, Community Navigators are connected to school staff to provide teachers and counselors with defined links to communities for information, interpretation, and mediation. Teachers, school counselors, and administrative staff at refugee impacted schools work with Community Navigators to identify and access informal community supports and resources to support individual student success. They serve as a channel of information from refugee communities to schools, reporting recommendations and ideas for best practices generated from parent meetings to school teachers, staff, districts, and even the Colorado Department of Education. They also play a key role as advocates and cultural brokers for refugee school children and their parents.
Resource Materials Used in Program
- Easel and markers
- Evaluation tools (see below)
- Guest speakers from neighborhood schools
- CAO's Parent Engagement Curriculum, which is made up of:
o Limited English Proficient Project (2005) Minnesota Department of Education
o Working Together Toolkit (2006) New Mexico Highlands University
o Parent handbooks and student handbooks from neighborhood schools
o Examples of common school documents (i.e. Report Cards, Progress Reports, Free
and Reduced Lunch Paperwork, etc.)
o Documents created by the CAO program coordinator
Groups Served by Program
- In Metro Denver, the refugees served by this program are primarily Congolese, Burundian, Somali, Bhutanese, Eritrean, Iraqi, and various groups from Burma.
- In Greeley, the refugees served by this program are primarily from Burma.
- Fort Morgan, the refugees served by this program are primarily from Somalia.
- In Colorado Springs, the refugees served by this program are primarily from Bhutan.
This program is partially funded by a Refugee School Impact Grant from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement and is also funded by the Denver Public Schools.
Program Staffing and Required Staff Training
The Community Navigator program is run by Colorado African Organization's Executive Director, a Program Coordinator, and nine Community Navigators.
The Community Navigators receive training from:
- School District Staff: They train Community Navigators to increase their understanding of district-specific and school- specific policies, procedures, services, resources, and personnel.
- Colorado State's RSIG Program Coordinator: She trains Community Navigators on RSIG services and other relevant service providers in Colorado, allowing Community Navigators to refer refugee students and parents when appropriate.
- CAO Program Coordinator: She provides monthly training for Community Navigators on parent engagement topics from CAO's parent engagement curriculum.
- Denver Public School Family Outreach Specialist: She proves professional development training for Community Navigators on "Literacy Strategies" for parents to try in home with children to support classroom learning and promote family literacy.
- Newcomer refugee parent surveys (oral and written)
- Newcomer refugee parent focus groups
- School teacher and staff survey (mailed each academic year term)
- Community Navigator activity log coding
In a recent sample of newcomer refugee parent participants from Somalia, Bhutan, and Burma:
- Over 80 percent of parents surveyed responded that they had gained a better understanding of the importance of parent-teacher partnerships in supporting youth education in the United States
- Over 80 percent of parents responded that Community Navigator support & involvement in CAO parent engagement programming has helped them to "learn about resources, services, and school programming"
- Over 80 percent of parents surveyed responded that Community Navigator and program participation improved their ability to interact with their child/children's schools
- Over 80 percent of parents responded that they felt "more comfortable and confident" in their ability to communicate to their children's teachers and schools across languages and cultures
- Over 90 percent of parents felt that community navigators supported newcomer refugee parents in partnering with school teachers in youth education
- 100 percent of parents felt that CAO parent engagement programming provided support for schools to work better with refugee parents and communities in order to support refugee student success
The following statistics highlight some of the feedback from local school teachers and staff on the value of refugee parent engagement programming (as per responses on surveys mailed out to individual schools):
- 100% of survey responders report CAO Parent Engagement Programming and refugee community navigators as "Helpful" to "Extremely Helpful (Very Frequently)" for "Conducting outreach to individual refugee parents".
- 89% of survey responders report CAO Parent Engagement Programming and refugee community navigators as "Helpful" to "Extremely Helpful (Very Frequently)" for "Ability to involve refugee parent in Parent-Teacher conferences, Parent Education meetings, and other school-based opportunities for parental involvement".
- 89% of survey responders report CAO Parent Engagement Programming and refugee community navigators as "Helpful" to "Extremely Helpful (Very Frequently)" for their "Ability to collaborate and communicate with refugee parents across language and culture".
- 89% of survey responders report CAO Parent Engagement Programming and refugee community navigators as "Helpful" to "Extremely Helpful (Very Frequently)" for "Increased contact and more frequent interactions with refugee parents".
- 80% of survey responders report CAO Parent Engagement Programming and refugee community navigators as "Helpful" to "Extremely Helpful (Very Frequently)" in the "Ability of teacher to communicate/work with refugee parents to address individual student concerns when needed: (truancy, academic performance, social, behavioral, health, etc.)".
- Ongoing Community Navigator participation in school forum meetings to bring the voice of refugee communities to the table
- Capitalizing on existing cultural norms for service/information delivery to refugee parents
- Teachers and Community Navigators partner to conduct home visits with newcomer families
- Collaboration with VOLAGs to provide a "Public School 101" to newly arrived refugee parents to empower them with information from the first day of their child's educational journey in the United States and to emphasize the importance of parent involvement
(303) 953-7060 ext.104
This program began in September 2010 and is still operating as of September 2011.