Education Week - November 15, 2017 - 6
Teaching Parents the Right 'Questions to Ask' in Schools
Program turns parents
into children's advocates
By Catherine Gewertz
Photos by Preston Gannaway for Education Week
It's been a long work day, but two dozen parents have come straight from their jobs in the
orchards and packing plants to this classroom
in their children's high school. They want their
In Spanish, they're firing off queries at the
associate principal. Three months ago, these
parents understood little about their school.
Nearly all are from Mexico, many with little
formal education. They come from countries
where the schools work differently. But after
a nine-week training program, they're brimming with information and new power. And
their questions keep coming.
"Have you given any thought to improving
student parking?" asks Ricardo Salas, reading
his question aloud from a scrap of lined notebook
paper. "Some students park across the bridge,
and walk over to school, and it's dangerous."
"How often are students tested, and why do
you make them take a test in December, when
many families travel?" asks Reynalda Muñoz.
These and many other questions volleyed toward Phuc Pham-Goulart, the associate principal of Peter Johansen High School, on a recent
fall evening. Blanca Alvarado, a facilitator for
PIQE, or Parent Institute for Quality Education, the organization that is conducting the
training, served as Spanish-English translator.
It was a scene many schools would envy as
they pursue an often-elusive goal: enlisting
parents as active partners. It can be particularly challenging in schools with large populations of immigrants, or parents with little
schooling; language barriers and unfamiliarity
with the school system can keep them from
making meaningful connections at their children's schools.
Those connections can make a big difference
in students' experiences in school. Research
shows that children whose parents are active
in their schools have better attendance, perform better in class, are more likely to take
advanced courses in high school, and are more
likely to graduate on time.
ABOVE: Liliana Valdez teaches parents
about types of financial aid for college
during a session organized by PIQE, or the
Parent Institute for Quality Education, in
Modesto, Calif. The group has taught more
than 624,000 parents to advocate for their
children since its inception 30 years ago.
Many parents in the community are
immigrants who are unfamiliar with the
ways of U.S. schools and colleges.
Nohemi Baylon giggles while speaking
along side instructor Liliana Valdez during
a PIQE class at Johansen High School in
Modesto, a national program that trains
parents to help advocate for their high
Information as Power
In this almond- and peach-farming community 90 miles east of San Francisco, they're
trying to crack that code. The "principal's
forum" marks the culminating moment of
these parents' training. The deep dive into the
American school system has equipped parents
to bring their concerns to their school's leaders. And bring they do.
In the course of a 90-minute session, they ask
about campus security, bus safety, college-prep
courses, and counselors' caseloads. They want to
know how they can line up tutors for their children, and why there aren't more field trips to
college campuses. Pham-Goulart offers answers
and explanations, and tells the parents that she
needs their input to make the school better.
This is gratifying to Yesenia Valladolid,
whose 14-year-old daughter is a freshman at
Johansen High. Born in California but raised
mostly in Mexico, Valladolid has a 7th grade
education, and wanted to learn how to maximize the benefit of the public schools for her
daughter and her son, who is now 10.
"I always wanted to help them get what I
didn't have, but I didn't know what questions
to ask, where to look for information," she said
during a break in the PIQE training.
"Now I ask them to show me their grades. I
make sure they finish their homework. I know
what credits my daughter needs to graduate,
and what [additional credits] she needs to go
to the University [of California]. I didn't know
Valladolid is about to complete the nineweek course by PIQE. It's offered in versions
tailored for elementary, middle, and high
school, and taught in 16 languages.
Here in Modesto, it's taught in Spanish,
for the many Mexican and Salvadoran immigrants. But less than an hour's drive away,
parents are taking the course in Russian,
Hmong, and Punjabi. PIQE also offers shorter
courses in family literacy, science-and-math
education, and other subjects.
But its signature program is an orientation
to the American school system, covering topics
such as how schools are organized and funded,
and how parents can contact teachers and
help with homework. The idea is to equip parents unfamiliar with the school system with
the skills to get involved, and become agents
of change for their schools and their students.
"Programs like PIQE are about leveling
the playing field," said Steven B. Sheldon,
the director of research for the National Network of Partnership Schools, which works
with about 600 schools nationwide to pro-
6 | EDUCATION WEEK | November 15, 2017 | www.edweek.org
mote parent involvement.
"There are a lot of things you need to know
about the American education system that families raised in that system-especially families
who've been successful in that system-have a
sense and understanding of already," said Sheldon, an associate professor in the Johns Hopkins University school of education. "It's hard to
be a good advocate for your children in schools if
you don't know the rules of the game."
From and for the Community
Funded largely by schools' program fees and
donations, PIQE grew out of a 1987 push to
improve schools in the low-income neighborhoods of San Diego, and has since provided
training for more than 624,000 California
Activists worked with the Spanish- and
Cambodian-speaking parents there, and developed a list of more than 50 areas of school
operations that they needed to understand
better in order to be meaningfully engaged.
That list formed the basis of the PIQE curriculum, said Patricia Mayer-Ochoa, the group's
vice president for program development.
In one of those early meetings, she said,
"one of the fathers stood up and said, 'We don't
know what we don't know, and that's a dangerous place to be. Teachers assume I'm not
asking because I'm not interested, but I don't
even know what questions to ask,' " recalled
Mayer-Ochoa, who attended that session. "It
was an a-ha moment."
Parents in the Modesto PIQE course also
report that it was difficult to know how to
participate in school life. But in the last two
months, they've amassed a storehouse of information that's changed their sense of what
they can do.
A week before the principal's forum, the
parents in the class at Johansen High waded
through the intricacies of financial aid, a landscape that even highly educated American
parents find daunting.
The facilitator for that session, Liliana Valadez, walked them through the four types of
student aid: loans, grants, scholarships, and
work-study. One mother, amazed that grants
are awarded with no repayment required, said
in Spanish: "Is that money really free?"
Valadez reminded the parents of important
distinctions as they venture into the world of
"You don't have to get a federal loan. You can
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - November 15, 2017
Education Week - November 15, 2017
E-Schools Adapting to Transgender Students’ Needs
In Florida, Laissez-Faire Approach to Monitoring Private School Vouchers
New Survey Details Effect of Inclusion on Teaching Time
Are States Changing Course On Teacher Evaluation?
News in Brief
Teaching Parents the Right ‘Questions to Ask’ in Schools
Rising Food Allergies A Challenge for Schools
GreatSchools Expands Its Ratings on Schools
Study: Do Parents Need a Reason To Go School Shopping?
SNAPSHOT: Single-Gender Education
New Mexico Offers Teachers A Seat at Policymaking Table
Repercussions for K-12 From Democratic Election Gains
GOP Tax Plans Could Affect K-12 Aid, Teachers’ Pocketbooks
A One-Year Scorecard for Trump On K-12 Campaign-Trail Promises
A Primer on the Teacher Tax Break
Emily Phillips Galloway, Paola Uccelli & Christina Dobbs: The Power of Precise Language
Adam Urbanski, Tom Alves & Ellen Bernstein: Without Teacher Input, Ed. Reform Is Doomed to Fail
William Sterrett: Time Is a Principal’s Most Limited Resource
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Elaine Weiss & Christopher T. Cross: Education’s Golden Rule
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - Are States Changing Course On Teacher Evaluation?
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - Cover2
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - 3
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - Report Roundup
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - 5
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - Teaching Parents the Right ‘Questions to Ask’ in Schools
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - Rising Food Allergies A Challenge for Schools
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - GreatSchools Expands Its Ratings on Schools
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - Study: Do Parents Need a Reason To Go School Shopping?
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - SNAPSHOT: Single-Gender Education
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - 11
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - 12
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - 13
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - 14
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - 15
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - 16
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - New Mexico Offers Teachers A Seat at Policymaking Table
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - 18
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - GOP Tax Plans Could Affect K-12 Aid, Teachers’ Pocketbooks
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - A One-Year Scorecard for Trump On K-12 Campaign-Trail Promises
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - A Primer on the Teacher Tax Break
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - Adam Urbanski, Tom Alves & Ellen Bernstein: Without Teacher Input, Ed. Reform Is Doomed to Fail
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - William Sterrett: Time Is a Principal’s Most Limited Resource
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - Readers React
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - 25
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - Cover3
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - Elaine Weiss & Christopher T. Cross: Education’s Golden Rule