A sea of eager faculty was selling red, black and white school spirit apparel, and volunteer students in yellow T-shirts were directing slightly lost parents to their children’s classrooms. South Freeporter Jessica Flores, mother of freshman Katherine Arguesta, waited for her daughter to help guide her through Freeport High School. It was Flores’s first visit to FHS.
She attended Hispanic Parent Night at Freeport High on Sept. 27. The event, which was part of Back to School Night, was focused on Spanish-speaking parents.
Because the Village of Freeport is 42 percent Hispanic, according to the census, Freeport High makes a special effort to serve Hispanic students and their families.
“We want to expand the information and opportunity to our Spanish-speaking parents,” Freeport High School Principal Joseph Mille said. “What I want to do is bridge the communication gap, break down the walls and have parents come here where they can feel safe and where they can communicate.”
It’s often hard for Spanish-speaking parents to get involved in their children’s education because meaningful communication with faculty and even other parents can be difficult, said Columbus Avenue School PTA member Michelle Longo.
“I think it comes out of the sense of being fearful because we don’t know the language,” Flores said. “Even when parents have learned enough English to communicate, they are not confident enough.”
Another obstacle Hispanic parents often face is not understanding how the American school system works. Flores noted that the U.S. education system is different and more opportunistic than the educational system she went through in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Arguesta said she was glad her mom could get a better view of what the next four years would be like for her. “It’s nice to have some people helping [her] understand what the school is really about,” she said.
An eighth-grader from J.W. Dodd Middle School, Jeffrey Hernandez, attended Hispanic Parent Night with his father and sister, who’s a senior at the high school. He agreed that involving Hispanic parents in a more inclusive way is important to his family’s educational experience.
“You mostly see more of the English-speaking parents involved,” he said. “The Spanish-speaking parents, they don’t always know what they’re saying. So that’s why it’s good to have a Spanish night.”
For his dad, Jose, from El Salvador, involvement in his children’s schooling is focused on their success. “To me, it wasn’t easy growing up,” he said. “I didn’t get a chance to go to college. I want them to have a better life.”
Freeport High not only offers Hispanic Parent Night, but also has hired bilingual faculty and staff. Additionally, Mille said he has made sure to have two guidance counselors who speak Spanish assigned to help Hispanic students and their parents understand the school system and guide them through questions about college and more.
“I feel like many Spanish-speaking parents just need an introduction to feel comfortable,” Jocelyn Rodriguez, an all-grade art teacher who also speaks Spanish at Freeport, explained. “It doesn’t matter who makes the phone call or who introduces them. It’s about making them feel comfortable and letting them know your doors are open.”
Hispanic Parent Night is just one of the ways Freeport High is making an effort to build rapport with Hispanic parents. The school also offers Hispanic Financial Aid Night.
Mille, along with other school faculty and staff, also meet four to five times a year with community members to discuss issues and to try to tackle problems as part of a program called Latino Community Leaders. “That’s what I try to do here,” Mille said. “I try to build relationships with the anyone I come in contact with.”