Mary Todd bolsters relationships with Hispanic families
A special Valentine’s party drew nearly two dozen Spanish-speaking families to Mary Todd Elementary, where they had a chance to make new friends, meet some staffers, and hear about specific ways to plug in at their children’s school. “It’s part of our outreach to make our families feel welcome and give them a voice in the school. They really want to participate, and the families are very supportive,” said Principal Freda Asher, who noted more than 35 percent of her student population is Hispanic. “We want to include and involve all our families in our work here. The hope is they’ll feel a part of the school as we give them means to help their children become proficient learners.”
Mary Todd’s Family Resource Center and English Language staff, the school/parent committee guided by the district’s office of Family & Community Engagement (FACE), and Norma Flores of the English Learners Advocacy Program organized the Feb. 11 event. It included a light lunch and heart-themed cake in the cafeteria, get-to-know-you games, and an introduction to the five-week Latino Literacy Project. “We’re promoting building relationships with families, and Mary Todd has really been intentional with these activities,” said Veda Stewart, the FACE district liaison. “You can’t do all the other things until you have those relationships.”
FACE district coordinator Miranda Scully enlisted Lindsay Mattingly from the Lexington Public Library to lead the literacy series as part of Mary Todd’s efforts to further engage its Latino families. For five consecutive Tuesdays, they are welcome to come explore creative ways to read to their children. “It shows the parents there’s value in reading to their kids in their home language and encouraging them to learn. Every parent’s a teacher, and their input in their child’s education is very important. It also reminds them to still embrace their culture and that the values and traditions are important to share with their children as well as our school community,” said FRC coordinator Beth Myers. “Our hope is it will also be a way for them to connect with each other, where they haven’t felt the community when they come to (school) functions because of the language barrier.” When Myers spoke to the parents at the party, she pointed out the value of making social connections, which is part of the Kentucky Strengthening Families framework included in the Family Resource Center and Youth Services Center grants.
As the public library’s multicultural liaison, Mattingly plans to conduct the hour-long literacy sessions in Spanish. Each week, she will bring a new book for the families to discuss and take home. “All of the books are very relevant to Latinx culture, typically written by Latinx authors and containing elements that are culturally appropriate, so they’re really relatable,” she said. Mattingly will also offer tips such as asking a child questions about the story and talking together about the illustrations. “It’s to increase parent-and-child reading time, giving them some pointers on how to make it interesting and get the most out of it and how to set up a routine,” she said. “Hopefully they’ll see more joy of reading with their children and have that extra time to connect, and hopefully their children will want to read more and it will increase their academic success in the future.”
Last fall Mattingly led a similar program at Russell Cave Elementary, where almost three-quarters of the students are Hispanic. “At Russell Cave, it was a great place for parents to come and talk about their kids and shared struggles,” she recalled. “It really built a bond and opened more doors for participation.”
The staff at Mary Todd is counting on that, too.