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N.Y. Program Reaches Out to English-Learner, Special Education Parents

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New York City is expanding a family-engagement outreach program to two groups that typically participate less in schools—parents who are learning English, and those with children with severe disabilities.

The New York City Department of Education and Learning Leaders, a nonprofit organization that focuses on family engagement, are working together on a pilot project to train 1,000 parents on ways to participate in schools with low parent participation. The cost is $300,000.

Learning Leaders is starting with 400 parents and expects that 50 schools will have parent volunteers by the end of the semester through the Families Fostering Success program.

Starting in June, the second phase will focus on reaching 600 families with parents who are learning English in 20 schools. The program plans to hold training and workshops in the parents' first languages, including Spanish, Mandarin, and Bengali.

"Our hope is to remove the stigma for parents—that they don't have to be proficient in English and that they won't be considered useful in a school," said Jane Heaphy, executive director of Learning Leaders, in a phone interview with Education Week.

Some parents will be able to help out in classrooms where children's native languages are used. Others will learn how to help with other classroom activities, such as in a bookmaking workshop, Heaphy said.

The program also has 50 parents of special education students in its pilot project. Some school officials have had concerns about involving parents in classrooms with children with fragile health, Heaphy said. But the program is helping parents become involved in "less academic" ways, including theater productions or the library.

"Parents are really feeling included and empowered in a way that had hoped for when we started this," Heaphy said.

Related story: New York Expands Services for Families Who Speak Little or No English

Contact Sarah Tully at [email protected].

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