Today’s blog is written by Laura Gardner. Laura has 16 years of experience working in public education, refugee resettlement, and social work. While in public education, she worked as a district level manager for immigrant family and community engagement as well as a school social worker. Learn more about Laura on our English Learner Portal website.
Many schools across the U.S. host international or multicultural nights each year. At these events, students and/or their families typically set up tables to highlight their countries and cultures and the rest of the students and families walk from table to table sampling food and looking at artifacts and maps. While organizers of these events have good intentions and aim to honor their students’ cultural backgrounds, sometimes these events can seem tokenistic. How can we build family comfort in schools throughout the school year? With 79% of teachers in the U.S. being white* and 25% of students being children of immigrants, getting to know the cultural backgrounds of students requires a deeper dive.
There are often two goals of international nights. The first is for students to learn more about other cultures and the second is for teachers to learn more about the backgrounds of their students and their families. With those goals in mind, what are 10 possible alternatives to international night?
- Invite immigrant parents or community members to speak in your class about their background and culture or a particular topic (i.e. a Vietnamese refugee could speak to students who are learning about the Vietnam war, etc.).
- Invite immigrant parents or community members to come to the classroom and share a story from their home country.
- Visit the main places your students and their families spend their time (places of worship, stores, community centers, neighborhoods, etc.).
- Travel as much as possible outside of the United States, particularly to the home countries of your students. Talk with students and their families about your experiences.
- Conduct an immigrant parent panel. For this professional learning opportunity, invite 3-6 immigrant parents to form a panel. Have one educator ask questions to each parent such as “Can you tell us about schools in your home country?” and so on. Be sure to provide teachers in the audience with an opportunity to ask their own questions.
- Invite immigrant parents to provide input on the rules and values that are practiced at school. Discuss any “cultural mismatches” between home and school.
- Take an interest in immigrant parents’ approach to raising their children. Ask questions about their family life.
- Ask immigrant parents or community members for information needed. Every time you seek background information on something from another country or culture, ask a parent from that culture (or student, if appropriate) to tell you what they know about that topic. For example, if you have a lesson on Chinese New Year, find a Chinese parent in your school or community leader to talk to for more information and/or invite the person to speak directly with your students. Resist the urge to Google for lesson plans when you have direct sources of information nearby.
- Invite immigrant parents or community members to provide input on the curriculum.
- Help students make connections between what they’re studying and the immigrant communities in their own town. For example, an IB (International Baccalaureate) class studying India could visit a local Indian organization rather than visiting the Indian embassy.
When you are ready to plan your schedule of parent/community events, please visit the English Learner Portal Resource Center for a free “Planning Checklist for ELL Family Nights”. You will find this document in the Family Engagement folder.
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