School of Public Policy Capstones

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The average student spends between six and seven hours in the classroom each day. However, children need educational support that exceeds the traditional school day in order to develop to their full potential, so parents play a vital role in a child’s ability to succeed. Parent involvement can take a variety of forms both formally in schools and informally at home, yet Spanish-speaking parents often face a variety of barriers that limit their ability to actively participate in their child’s education. While these problems typically occur in urban districts, Massachusetts and the Pioneer Valley in particular have a growing proportion of Spanish-speaking families. In Amherst, Crocker Farm Elementary School is an example of a school where the majority of parents are very active, yet the large Spanish-speaking population has had a difficult time participating in traditional ways. This qualitative case study will use methods including interviews, participant observation, and primary source analysis to conduct a programmatic evaluation of the support being offered by Crocker Farm and a needs assessment of this parent population. This will help align the needs of the parents and the action of the school in order to provide all students with the support they need both in and outside of the classroom.

This study will help to answer three different research questions that can help support and enhance parent participation. First, how do Crocker Farm parents and administration understand and define the challenges of its Spanish-speaking parents? Second, how do the perceptions and administrative roles of the staff affect their understanding of the problems and solutions for this issue? And finally, how can all of the stakeholders’ needs and resources be effectively used to create a sustainable system that cultivates an engaged parent population? By working directly with the stakeholders in a variety of roles regarding parent involvement, this case study breaks down the issue into communication barriers, structural limitations, and cultural challenges that face this specific parent population, as well as the institutional limitations of school. By understanding these challenges, Crocker Farm can learn how to effectively support its Spanish-speaking parents by building individual relationships, cultivating school-wide encouragement, and perpetuating systemic change at the district level.

This paper concludes with recommendations for Crocker Farm which can be used to create an environment that welcomes and encourages Spanish-speaking parents to actively participate. By outlining steps for improved communication and coordination, Crocker Farm can utilize its existing programs and initiatives at the individual, school, and district level in order to build a sustainable system that effectively supports parents. These strategies will help to inform Crocker Farm’s decision-making process and can also act as a framework for any rural school district facing this challenge in order to increase participation and improve the quality of parent-school interactions.

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