Beatrice Fernandez

BEATRICE FERNANDEZ:

OK.  My name is Beatrice Fernandez, Beatrice Fernandez.  I work in San Diego, California for the 8th largest district in the nation, San Diego Unified School District.  I have spent the last 12 years working at the district level as a resource teacher.  What that means is that I am a teacher, like everyone else, how---however, I am no longer in the classroom.  And I have been working in parent involvement since then.

Well, the boundaries that must be crossed in order to build, uh, uh, whole family partnerships are many.  What I have found is that if---what I have found is that school staff do not always understand the community that they’re working in.   For example, in San Diego is a very diverse community.  I have worked for the last 10 years in, uh, mainly Latino, Spanish-speaking, community.  So you have many teachers that drive in, let’s say, from out of town to---to work in---in what we call the barrio, the neighborhood, and not accustomed to many of the---of the families that live in that community, that maybe have some stereotypes about families.  Are---I recall that when I first went to work at Balboa Elementary, which is---would be considered a barrio school in which, even today, is still considered one of the lowest performing schools in the district.   Uh, I remember that I was told, oh, take a tour of the school; you’re going to see a lot of poverty.  And as I walked around the community I realized is, that I had come from such a community in my small---small town in Calexico, California.  And, yea, the homes were clean and the---and, uh, the yards were---were clean, but it was just---it---there was a---it was a lower income area.  So I think people have misperceptions.  So part of the barriers are getting past those stereotypes of what are poor families.  Uh, another major area is language.  Uh, if---if you re---are going to be reaching out to families, then you need to have some staff that does speak the language.  I’m not saying that every single teacher should be bilingual, but that you should have an---a clerk in the office that at least speaks Spanish so that parents feel comfortable, or other languages.  It’s, uh, not just having parents that are Spanish-speaking who are working in the cafeterias, because that happens in many of our low-income schools.  We’re having to bus children across town for integration in San Diego, so they might be bussed, let’s say, 15 miles to a school in a mainly white community.  And the only role models they have there are usually, the cafeteria workers that speak Spanish.  Uh, there’s no one in the office that can communicate with the parents so when parents call in they cannot even talk of, you know, talk about a problem they may have. So---so those are the barriers that are really, uh, uh, kind of hinder building those partnerships.  It’s also---I feel it’s also important to build capacity in staff.  Many of our teachers are not trained at the college level to work with staff.  For example, even in California there is a law, I believe since 1997, that said that a preservice and service training should include work in the area of parent involvement, but they never told people how to do it.  Therefore if you just touch upon it, therefore you have already trained teachers.  And part of my job the last, you know, since 1989 or the last, what, 12 years, has been trying to build capacity in staff to work with parents.  Building capacity means working with principals, vice principals, classroom teachers, cafeteria workers, custodians, I have been trained in the Comer Model.  And in the Comer Model you talk about building a community of---of adult that really care for children.  So you cannot just be working with teachers or with the principals, but you have to work with parents and any other adult that is around children during the school.

Well, the Comer Model is a systematic approach to school reform.  It is really---consists of three teams.  Uh, the governor’s team was---well, which is actually called, in the Comer Model, the School Plan in Management Team.  Which is a team composed of the principal, uh, parents, community members and---and teaching staff who meet together to really focus on improving student achievement.  The second team is a student-staff support team and that is a team consisting of possibly this---the resource specialist that works with children with---that have special needs; the nurse, the counselor, possibly a social worker, the principal and the parent.  This is a team that gets together and looks at what are the needs the children have.  And n---and not just behavioral needs and not just academic needs, but what kind of emotional---needs they might have or---in looking at children, terms of the whole child.  The third team, which is the one that I---that I really, um, have been trained under, is the parent team and that is also bringing together parents and s---school staff to see how can we work with staff, excuse me, how can we work with parents so that parents so that parents can work with the children at home, or be involved in the school.  Now, uh, you have to really do a lot of training in all teams to work together to really impact student achievement.  And it’s a model that’s also based on the no fault---the no fault, um, philosophy where we don’t blame people for the past; we focus on how we can resolve problems.  In other words, we don’t---we don’t blame parents for children not achieving well.  We don’t blame teachers for children not doing so well and we don’t blame the school.  We realize there’s a problem, we look at how can we resolve this; because it’s the only way we’re going to create change.  It’s really col---very collaborative model based on our consensus decision-making.  And it’s a model that when it is implemented fully, over a course of years, and you’re continually looking at academic achievement and influencing strategies to really, uh, to really raise to achievement, you will see results.  On the oth---on the other hand, what happens with the Comer Model is that people want overnight results and you don’t allow this whole team to work together.  One of the drawbacks that you see in school reform efforts now, that are really just based on---on curriculum, is that they don’t have that relationship-building piece that the Comer Model has.  In order---I---I believe, after all these years, that if you’re really going to make a critical change in a school, is you have to balance relationships and curriculum changes.  You just can’t have one without the other.

Well, I was---I was a Yale-trained, uh, facilitator since 1993.

Home visits, I believe, is a strategy that’s really under utilized, for various reasons.  I’d like to give you a couple of examples.  Uh, in California we have these grants that were, uh, offered, I believe a year ago, called the Nell Soto Grants, after a legislator.  And it provided schools moneys to pay staff, mainly teachers, to go into the homes and visit families.  And the money could be used for---for meeting together---teachers meeting together to plan their visits.  It could be used to buy---to purchase materials to then go into the home and leave a little goodie bag with pencils and scissors and dictionaries because many families that---that, um, um, do not have these tools at home.  And what we found out in working with the Nell Soto Grant, because I was one of the trainers for, uh, teachers, was that it was a wonderful experience.  Because, as I mentioned---earlier (siren in background) many of us do not live in the communities we work in and when you make home visits it really gives you an opportunity to knock on their door, have the parent welcome you in.  You’re sitting in their home.  They feel, um, they---they---they trust you, especially because you’re their child’s teacher.  And in many of the communities the---that we work with where you have immigrant families, they have such a respect for teachers that for you to actually come into their home is something that they’re very, very proud of.  I have heard teachers tell me that parents will have this fabulous meal spread for them.  I mean the---the---the visit was only supposed to last 15minutes but how can you turn down a parent when they have gone out of their way to make this wonderful lunch?  Uh, there, uh, there are also some times when some families when you want to open the door, even though they know you’re coming, you’ve made the appointment, you’ve sent a note, just called up, and some parents are just not ready to accept you in your home.  So this one teacher said he did, is that he just kind of---he knew the mom was in the house, he just left a little nice little note and then he---he worked on building that relationship with the parent at school, so that they finally could go then to their home.  What I also found interesting, some of these young teachers, they just have so much energy.  They---they’re not afraid to go into a community that’s very different than their own and they not speak the language.  They’ll take a buddy, another teacher, may---possibly an instructional aide that may speak the language, and they’ll go in pairs and I’ve never seen such enthusiastic young teacher---teachers coming back and---and---of sharing the---the experiences and how it really helped them understand the children and where they’re coming from.  There was another teacher that said that she went to this home and she had no idea that this fifth-grade little girl lived in such poverty with, uh, area with lots of drugs, uh, the mother was obviously also on drugs and she didn’t go in the home, she just kind of left some information with the---with the mother.  But now she---she realized at that point why that child was late to school.  Why that child was not clean at times and why that child didn’t bring her homework.  She realized that maybe just coming to school was an achievement for that child, based on the kind of environment that she came from.  So those are the kinds of stories that really change the way that you work with children that are from poverty or fr---or who live under stressful conditions, is what home visits can bring to you, is really opening up your eyes and looking through a different lens at how people live and the struggles they have just coming to school.

I spent ten years at, um---at a---a mainly Latino Spanish-speaking community and I f---uh, I found that there are many things that schools can do to prepare parents to work with their children, trainings, resources.  For example, there---there is a program called Family Rating where you---you bring parents into the---uh, the school for a workshop around books.  You model for parents how to read aloud.  You let parents check out that book.  You teach parents some very simple strategies such as, uh, asking, um, uh, asking questions or making predictions.  And you model that for parents, you have parents practice that with each other and then you lend parents to take home.  You also raffle books off for parents because one of the point things that we need to really instill in families that are not accustomed to having books in the home is the value of building a home library.  So when you bring parents into the school and you put them in the setting with lots of books and you show them how to read with their children, why it’s important, and you even give them books an---as prizes and then you go to the next step and the next time they come and you teach them what the value of having a---a public library card and you bring the librarian in, or possibly take the parents to the local library so they can see it for themselves.  Because many parents have no idea of all the resources that---the---there are available there at the public library.  They can check out videos to help with mathematics, subtraction, division, there are, um, you can also check out storybooks for children with---with tapes.  Uh, there are books for parents, books for children, I mean there’s so many th---resources available at your local library that the school, in many ways, can help bridge that relationship there by bring the---the public librarian into the school.  Uh, I also believe that schools can also offer, uh, ESL classes for parents.  I remember my whole experiences working with parents that are immigrants.  Uh, in California we also have a statewide pr---program.  Uh, the CBETD Program, the Community Based English Tutoring Program, that provides free ESL classes, at the school site, with free childcare.  The instructors are all from the community colleges.  So that is one service that schools can provide is making the space available so that parents can come to their local community to take classes to improve their English and therefore help their parents, excuse me, help their children, because part of this English program is that, because you’re receiving free English classes, you are also asked that when you get to a certain level of English fluency you are then to go into the classroom to help children in English.  So it’s a nice, reciprocal program.  So that---those are just two of the examples that schools can do in terms of offering programs at the---at the school site level.

There are many things that school can do to really reach out to linguistically different parents.  Part of---of the---of the constraint, though, is funding.  Because m---many schools don’t have the money, today, to hire, uh, parent coordinators who speak different languages.  There are some schools that are fortunate enough to possibly write a grant that allows them to hire, uh, community aides that speak the language.  But I---I do believe that many communities have resources, in the community, that you can tap to come in and work with parents or prepare them. (Knocking sound) There are many things that parents can do to volunteer in the school such as preparing materials for teachers.  Such as hearing a child read or maybe even showing a child how to, uh, a very young child, how to turn the pages on a book, or helping a child with some activities.  So there---there are many things that parents can do, but you need someone that can train them and someone that can train them in their own language is---is the best.  Now it becomes very difficult in schools where you have more languages such as, uh, Marshal Elementary School in San Diego, where you have maybe about 15 languages and you have the Somalis mothers that come.  I remember, uh, the---the parent coordinator, Lydia, um, Lydia Soto at that school, who---who thought it was easy to get the Somalis moms to come in and cut out materials for the kindergarten teacher.  Well, little did she know that Somali moms were not trained to use scissors.  So the first thing she had to do was train them how to just cut straight lines the way you would a---a child that’s just entering school.  And that’s because we were not aware that many of these families were in refugee camps, they had not gone to school and so they were not accustomed to using the tools that for us are very common things.  So we really---it’s really important to understand the culture of, uh, not just the language but the culture that you’re working with and finding a way that they can help out.  We found that the Somali moms could certainly help supervise in the morning during free-lunch time, ex---excuse me, during breakfast time.  They could supervise there, they could supervise during lunchtime, after school they could help with the parent patrol because those were kinds of entrée activities where you didn’t need a lot of language.  And so you really have to look for ways to involve parents.  Granted, the more fluent the parent is in English or they have English reading skills then you can have them working in the classroom, listening to children read, uh, helping the teacher, um, in other ways.  So think that the key is that we have to find out what kind of strengths parents have.  Build on those strengths and try to identify resources in the community you can---that you can tap to bring in and work with some---with some of the parents.  Uh, I also believe that there---there is---there’s---there are grants out there to write on the area of parent involvement to bring more help to a school.  The problem is that many schools now don’t have staff that’s out---that’s available to write the grant so then that becomes a little bit harder to do, but I have seen that work really well.   Also, there is also a role for non-profit organizations.  And the---we in the---the schools are not really as well-versed in---in really taping non-profit organizations and welcoming---welcoming them into the schools.

We have, in San Diego, we have not really, to my knowledge, had an influx of ‘faith-based’ volunteers.  All I can tell you is that a volunteer is a volunteer.  Is that our schools need as much help as possible.  As moneys get cut back and moneys get put be---are put more and more into just professional development, where it should be, then we really need to find the ways to bring other people in the community in and look at what they have to offer in terms of enriching the school environment.  So the key is to know your volunteers, to train them, to give them some feedback, find out how they’re doing, because a volunteer is a volunteer is a volunteer.  And if we’re really going to do the best thing we can for kids, we have to tap every individual that’s out there willing to help us at the schools.

I read a project called ‘San Diego Parenting University,’ and if offers parents cla---uh, parents in classes at night, for parents from eligible Title One schools.  And I walked into the---a parent---it was a parenting or teenager class taught by a counselor, but I had organized the class, and this bilingual, Latino mom says, um, ‘Uh, are you the one in charge of all this?’  Or---and---and I said, ‘Well, I’m in charge of this project.’  ‘Did you think up of this idea?’  And I said, ‘I wish I could,’ I said, ‘it was really my supervisor, Janet Preston,’ and I said, ‘why?’  She goes, ‘Well, I need to---for you to know that I am a person that suffers from depression.’  ‘And, uh, it’s---is this---I can barely make it to school to walk my child to school and I heard about San Diego Parenting University and the parent coordinator there,’ uh, we call them parent academic liaisons, said, ‘Mrs. Delong just kept telling me, you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go.  She---and she had no idea that I, uh, suffer from depression and will spend days in bed.  So I made myself get on the bus at night, with my child, and come here.’  And she said, ‘this is the best thing that has happened to me.’  She says, ‘I have learned so much about helping my child, about not---not raising my voice, not being punishing, but at looking at different ways to change my child’s behavior and I need to tell you that I had not left my bed for months.  And this project is just so wonderful and every chance I get I tell people that they need to come to Parent University.’  And to me that was a very touching story because you see these parents that get---that come, uh, on a school bus.  They cross different neighborhoods at night and you---you have no idea what---what personal story they have until they actually tell you this.  And then you realize they are the kinds of projects that you’re doing is making an impact in people and especially with children, and that’s what our goal has always been at San Diego Parenting University is to give parents the resources, parents that have the will but not necessarily the resources, the tools to help the kids.  And Mary Lou Gutierrez is an---is a good example of that kind of parent that re---sometimes just needs a little nudge in a direction to be able to help her child.

I have spent the last 20 years of---of my career working with parents, either at the school level or the district level.  And I realize that is we’re really going to make a difference in working with parents and in preparing teachers to work with parents, that you really have to have a comprehensive plan.  We cannot leave it to the schools to do it on their own because a few schools will do an excellent job, because they have people that have to be trained and know the value of parent involvement, but that many schools needed a lot of help.  So I believe that we are really fortunate in San Diego city schools to have a department that is totally dedicated to building capacity in staff to work with parents and to developing and implanting programs that are going to work with parents.  And that means that you have to have a school board and a superintendent that believes that parent involvement is important, to put the money into a project such as this, that can then development programs and train staff and then take that work to the schools to help the schools out.  I really believe that I have made a difference in working at the district level and being trained in the Comer process and spending about 7 years working with governors teams to help schools work more effectively to help kids.  I believe that my district has really invested in some really good, uh, training in me and working with, now, with San Diego Parenting University, in terms.  When you have a hundred parents coming out a night to classes, uh, on a bus and a 120 children for childcare, on a cold night, then parents tell you how much they enjoy the classes, then you realize that you’re making a difference in families.  So I do believe that you have to have a comprehensive plan for parent involvement.  It cannot---it can’t just be---well if---this sounds like a good idea and we’re going to try this next week.