Free Program Breaks Down Language Barriers for Waco ISD Parents

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WACO (February 27, 2014) Keeping non-English speaking parents in the loop about schoolwork has proved to be a hurdle for almost any school district in Texas.

And when Hispanics represent 57% of student demographics, Waco ISD is no exception. In a modern classroom, many Hispanic students today are bilingual when their parents are not.

It’s a problem Baylor Professor Dr. Randy Wood says won’t get smaller.

“Parents who aren’t literate in English face not understanding a lot of the things that are going on in their child’s educational career. Language wise, the confusion is a big problem," Wood said.

To help remedy that problem, Waco ISD and Baylor University spearhead a program called LEAF, which is short for “Learning English Amongst Friends.”

Every Thursday night, the program offers English classes at Cesar Chavez Middle School in Waco from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

There, Baylor students fluent in Spanish give one-on-one tutor sessions to parents looking to learn English.

Wood says attendance changes from week to week, but that 50 parents regularly attend classes throughout the school year.

“Parents can come and go as they please. We have beginner, intermediate, and advanced courses. So if someone comes in and has a little bit of experience, they can skip to other lessons,” Wood said.

LEAF’s intention is to push parents to understand English better so they can be on the same page with their child when it comes to classwork.

“We had a parent who didn’t speak much English come in for a conference one time, and we asked her how her son was doing with classes at school, to which she replied, ‘he told me he is the number one student in his class,’” Wood said.

“She then told us he showed her a slip and explained to her that it said ‘he was number one,’ and that she needed to sign it for school. We asked to see the slip and it was a deficiency notice saying he was failing in two classes,” he said.

“We’re trying to get these parents to ask questions like, ‘do you have homework? Do you have your books?’ The parents were telling us, they never knew there was homework and they didn’t know to ask about it."

Wood says parents who participate in the program generally see a significant boost in their child’s grades.

Oftentimes, Wood says some parents even work to receive their GED through LEAF.

It’s a program Waco ISD continues to tout, one that serves as a bridge between parents, students, and greater opportunities.

“LEAF is more than an acronym, it’s about relationships. We need to invest and support these families,” Wood said.