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  • Policy Report
  • From Translation to Participation: A Survey of Parent Coordinators in New York City and Their Ability to Assist Non-English Speaking Parents

    This 2004 report by AFC and the New York Immigration Coalition examines the role of Parent Coordinators and their ability to serve the needs of Limited English Proficient (LEP) parents.

    May 24, 2004

    Child reading a picture book in Portuguese with a parent. (Photo by Helena Lopes via Pexels)
    Photo by Helena Lopes via Pexels

    Parental involvement is indisputably a key factor in the success of a student’s education. In the New York City school system, the largest school district in the nation, 43% of students come from homes where English is not the primary spoken language. This makes the issue of language access central to the policy and practice of engaging NYC parents in their children’s education. Far too often, however, the efforts of limited English proficient parents to take part in their children’s educational lives are thwarted by language and culture barriers at all levels of the school system. Not only is the denial of translation and interpretation for LEP parents out of compliance with numerous federal, state, and local laws, but the loss of involvement of hundreds of thousands of parents is enormous, and its negative effects long-lasting for the school system as a whole, and for these parents’ children in particular.

    The New York City Department of Education has vigorously stated its belief in the importance of parent involvement, and has demonstrated its commitment to increasing parental involvement by creating a new Parent Coordinator position that, as of September 2003, was staffed at every public school. This report examines the role of Parent Coordinators and their ability to serve the particular needs of LEP parents. The findings of this report are based on a survey of 111 Parent Coordinators at schools in all five boroughs and ten school regions. Our survey found that while Parent Coordinators who were bilingual (66% of those surveyed) were attempting to assist with language access issues for LEP parents, they were clearly ill-equipped to fulfill the needs of their non-English speaking parent constituency. Even those Parent Coordinators who were bilingual could not deal with the sheer number of LEP parents with children in the NYC school system, including those parents whose language was different from the second language spoken by the coordinator, and the volume of school-related information that required interpretation and translation. It is evident that the needs of LEP parents far exceed the capacity of Parent Coordinators, or any single staff person in the school at that. It is only with a coherent language access system that provides central resources for those serving parents at the frontlines that the children of non-English speaking parents have a fair chance at attaining educational success.

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