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The Corner CAFE Podcast: Jenny Portillo-Nacu

The Corner CAFE Podcast: Jenny Portillo-Nacu(Episode #103)

January 2024 | 35:55

Hear strategies for building families' capacity and learning when it comes to supporting Emergent Bilingual and Multilingual Learner communities, in this episode of the Corner CAFE Podcast.


Jenny Portillo-Nacu
Jenny Portillo-Nacu is a Senior Education Equity Specialist at MAEC.

Nikevia Thomas
Nikevia Thomas is co-host of The Corner CAFE Podcast, and a Senior Education Equity Specialist at MAEC.

Jessica Webster
Jessica Webster is co-host of The Corner CAFE Podcast, and a Senior Family Engagement Specialist at MAEC.

Show Notes:

MAEC is committed to the sharing of information regarding issues of equity in education. The contents of this podcast were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education under the Statewide Family Engagement Centers program. However, the contents of this podcast do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Department of Education or federal government, generally.

Full Transcript:

Nikevia Thomas: Hello everybody, this is Nikevia and Jessica from MAEC's CAFE and you're listening to the Corner CAFE Podcast.

Families, schools, and communities in Maryland and Pennsylvania are looking for strategies to increase family engagement. On this show, we sit down with family engagement experts to discuss the ideas, best practices, and strategies that they use so that the rest of us can do the same. So let's get started.

Jessica Webster: Joining ...

Nikevia Thomas: Hello everybody, this is Nikevia and Jessica from MAEC's CAFE and you're listening to the Corner CAFE Podcast.

Families, schools, and communities in Maryland and Pennsylvania are looking for strategies to increase family engagement. On this show, we sit down with family engagement experts to discuss the ideas, best practices, and strategies that they use so that the rest of us can do the same. So let's get started.

Jessica Webster: Joining us today is Jenny Portillo-Nacu, Senior Education Equity Specialist at MAEC in our Center for Education Equity Division. With over a decade of experience as an elementary school educator and a background in curriculum development and instructional practices, Jenny brings a wealth of expertise to the table.

She is committed to improving instructional practices, fostering student engagement, and promoting family and community involvement to create inclusive learning environments. We are particularly excited to delve into Jenny's work with English Learners and her contributions to MAEC's 21st Century Learning at Home publication.

Welcome, Jenny, and thank you for being here with us today.

Jenny Portillo-Nacu: Thanks for having me. It's such a pleasure always to get to talk to you.

Nikevia Thomas: Yes. Thank you, Jenny. So can you tell us a little about what led to your passion for focusing on equity and equitable family engagement in education? And how do these two ideas relate to you?

Jenny Portillo-Nacu: I think part of it first is my own personal story. So I'm a first generation everything in this country. My parents immigrated from Mexico and Guatemala in the eighties and so I am the first gen to make it to high school, college, graduate, everything because my parents only got us up to a sixth-grade education in their home countries.

And seeing what involvement looked like for them as they were navigating a new country, a completely different school system, and language growing up, it was definitely clear to me that a lot of times, like my parents were labeled as like those parents that don't spend enough time in the building, and how could they? They tried to be there, but working schedules, language barriers, everything made it really hard.

And I would see the differences that there were in the way that my family and those of friends who were like me were able to engage, and then I would look at my peers who were born and bred here in the United States, had, white middle-class upbringing and their families were always present, right?

And so it was just from the very beginning. It was very clear to me that there were differences there in the different ways that families can engage, and it only became clear to me once I became a teacher, what systems actually contribute to that. So when I first started teaching, I was at a dual language immersion school.

I was a bilingual educator in Fort Worth, Texas, working with students who very much had similar backgrounds to me. Most of them were either first gen or recent arrivals to the country and likewise, their families also could only engage with the school in certain ways. But the differences were that a lot of the school staff actually reflected the community. They were from similar backgrounds, spoke the same languages. We were in a predominantly Latino community, so they were able to engage at a much higher level and I started realizing that, families couldn't always engage in the ways that the school wanted, like being present for academic nights or for PTA-type things, but they engage in a variety of other ways, whether it was contributing food or artifacts, or even labor hours to the school in different projects that they would be conducting, or whether it was cheering on our kids at their softball or football games or soccer games.

Because we had teams there at the schools, like families found ways to make sure that their children knew that they were present, and that got their foot in the door enough that we were able to bridge communication with them around academics, right? But I realized how much of that came down to individual teacher effort, and I luckily had other teachers around me, veteran teachers, who've been doing this much longer than I did, who emphasized to me the importance of being present as a teacher.

I would see my colleagues go to kids’ birthday parties and baptisms and quinceañeras. So I learned that's what good family engagement looks like. But then I've gone to other schools since then, where the family engagement practices really varied greatly, and there were cultural mismatches between the backgrounds of teachers and students that created some barriers there.

So all in all the experiences of my own and not feeling like my family was able to connect that much to school and then my experiences in seeing families, much like mine. Being able to do it really got me thinking about the importance of having a culturally responsive approach to family engagement, because if we apply a one size fits all sort of model of how we expect families to engage of course, there are going to be some families that doesn't work for. Whether if it's families like my own because of language issues, or because they're unfamiliar with how to navigate the school system, or truly even for families who aren't of families of Multilingual Learner, English Learner students that just have schedules that won't allow for certain things.

It really got me thinking about that, the fact that schools need to be more adaptive in the way that they ask families to engage so that there's more involvement across the board, and it doesn't become certain parents having more voice than others, because ultimately every family cares about their child's education and making sure that they're whole and developed people.

And so the onus is on schools to make sure that they're adapting and honoring the different ways families can engage, just like those families in my early years of teaching I saw engage in different ways.

Jessica Webster: Yeah, so you hit on a few of these things as you were talking about your own background and experiences, and I've had the pleasure of attending a few of your presentations.

So I've heard you speak. to other educators a lot about the importance of holding some of those core beliefs about family engagement in order to make sure that it becomes an equitable practice for us. Can you expand on some of those core beliefs for us and why they might matter?

Jenny Portillo-Nacu: I'd love to take credit for those core beliefs. A lot of them really come from Anne Henderson's work, but I've also, seen them enacted in schools, basically, the ideas are that this fundamental belief that all parents have dreams for their kids and want the best for them. That's a core belief that we have to have if we're really serious about having all families be able to engage at high levels, which is what to me, equitable family engagement looks like.

All parents do have, and family members, and caregivers have, the capacity to support their children's learning. Now, it doesn't mean everyone's going to be able to do it in the same ways, but everyone has something that they value that they can contribute to their child's learning. Families, parents, and school staff need to be equal partners.

A lot of times what happens is that decisions are made at the school level, and then we either ask families for their feedback, but ultimately, we know the decision has already been made, or we ask for their input, but ultimately, we still weigh more heavily with the school is going to do rather than really taking family input.

So we need to really have that belief that there's equal partnership and power sharing, which is a scary place to be as a school. It's scary to say, ‘Hey, family, you're going to have some power-sharing ability here and decision-making power.’ And so it's really important that there be some capacity building at the school level around what does it mean to power share with families, right? Because it doesn't mean that a family is going to walk in and suddenly start calling all the shots, but it means that there's going to be some actual dialogue and shared decision-making.

Another core belief is that really the responsibility for building the partnership between home and school rests primarily with the school staff, especially with school leaders. And I think that. It's really important to maintain that because if we think that families should be coming to us, then we're missing the point, right?

A lot of times we forget that there's an inherent power dynamic between schools and families where the school is on a slightly higher footing, there's an assumed expertise there that we think families don't always have. There's assumed abilities that the school has in influencing decisions that families don't have.

The school has to make it clear that one, they're up for the partnership and power sharing, and that they're willing to put some real commitment behind those words by creating systems that are going to actively invite families in. The reason why these core beliefs are really so important is because if we really uphold them, we can avoid a lot of harmful biases that can create some unintentional barriers for families, particularly those of historically marginalized backgrounds.

And so one example to consider is like when I come to this phrase of ‘Those parents don't care.’ That's something I heard a lot of teaching colleagues of mine say over the different schools I've worked in over the years and it's coded language. Who do we mean when we say those parents, right? And often, unfortunately, it means the parents of students from marginalized backgrounds because they have other barriers that make it hard for them to participate in school and want to.

But if you hold these core beliefs, it stops you from going into this harmful sort of biased thinking because it's not those parents don't care and start. Instead, you start to assume this parent does care. How do I support them so that they can be here? How do I help their learning? So they know how to best support their child. How do I learn from them so I can support their child? And so that's why these core beliefs are really critical because they really can impact our mindsets about families and what they're capable of. And then, in turn, the actions that we take to engage them.

Jessica Webster: Yeah. Thank you for that. Some powerful thoughts.

Nikevia Thomas: Yeah, it's very powerful, Jenny. It's very powerful. Let's talk a bit about families of English Learners. What does equitable family engagement look like for families of English Learners? And is English Learner the best terminology to use?

Jenny Portillo-Nacu: That's a really great question. The second one. So there's been a big shift in the last couple of years to using two other terms instead of English Learner.

One has been Multilingual Language Learners. So instead of an L, you have an MLL. Another of that's come out of the research, particularly from Ofelia García, who's a very renowned linguist and who's done a lot of work in the field. Is Emergent Bilingual or Emergent Multilingual and the emphasis on using these latter second terms is that it's asset based, right?

Instead of focusing on a student as being deficient in English, because legally, there's still Limited English Proficiency is one of the terms used by the federal government, right? To talk about students who are acquiring a second or second or et cetera language, but it really focuses on what the student doesn't currently have instead of acknowledging, no, the student already has a language that's fully developed, and we're working on acquiring a second, a third et cetera. And so their multilingualism or their bilingualism is emerging in them along a continuum. It's not something they don't have. And suddenly they have right and Multilingual Learners works in that same way as well.

That terminology is being picked up more and more by school systems. For example, the state of New Jersey is. Working on rewriting some of their policies related to Multilingual Learners. And one of the things they're doing is codifying that term in their state policies around the student group. Now, interestingly, though, the federal government will still continue to use English Language Learner, Limited English Proficiency, but, the use of the names really matters because it can influence policy.

If your focus is no longer just on language acquisition you're going to make investments and policy that supports acquisition of multiple languages and not the erasure of one language over the over-prioritizing another. So I tend to use a lot of Multilingual Learner or Emergent Bilingual in terms of what family engagement looks like when it's equitable for this particular student group. One of the biggest things is really building families' capacity and learning. The way I think about it is like any professional learning or development that you would give to teachers around Multilingual Learners and their needs and their rights you should be providing to families as well. And I'll talk a little bit more later on about a resource we have related to that. But really, it's making sure that families are aware of their rights, and a lot of times student protected class student groups, like those with special needs as well, they need to be really aware of that--what protections and rights they have under the law so they can properly advocate for their students. And the same is true of Multilingual Learners, and many times they're not aware of that. And so it can inhibit sometimes families from advocating for the services their child needs, so building families capacity so they understand their rights, they understand what's okay. And it's especially important when we're talking about families who are here as refugees, asylees, or undocumented, because a lot of times there's a fear of walking into a government, affiliated building, a school, etc. There's a fear of, what repercussions could there be, especially if a family is undocumented.

And so if they're aware of their rights, they know, for example, that they have the right to not have to provide anything related to citizenship when enrolling their child in school, right? Another piece I would think about that is really critical for equitable family engagement for Multilingual Learner families is accessibility.

A lot of times we think that if we translate something, then that means automatically we've checked off that box. Yep. We're being inclusive because it's available in Somali and Arabic, et cetera, language. But it doesn't mean that the language is accessible. Young-chan Han, who's a former colleague of ours here at MAEC writes about the stages of immigrant family involvement.

And one of the things that we know of is that there are certain families who come to this country in what she calls this sort of ‘survival mode.’ And then versus we have those that are here as culture as cultural connectors, cultural leaders. And so what that means is that there are families who are coming to the country, really just focused on keeping food on the table, making sure that they have a roof above their heads. And oftentimes those are the families that are usually of lower socioeconomic status and are struggling more. So I put my family in, in this boat, they didn't fully acquire an English fluency--like they ‘get by’ as they would say.

And so if you just translate something for them, from the technical English we use into technical Spanish, they're still not going to understand it. And so it's really important that we think about ‘how do we bring language down to the easiest terms to understand? How do we eliminate jargon?’ And the same goes for our native English-speaking families.

A lot of times, if we, I think about, especially the language that can throw people off in things like Individualized Education Plans. That language is not easy to understand, even if you know a particular language it's written in. So it's really important to make sure that you're providing communication that's accessible, not just in terms of language, but really thinking about meeting families at the literacy levels that are their levels of understanding.

The last thing I would say that's really critical to equitable family engagement, especially for Multilingual Learner families is really supporting families and authoring their own engagement. So I gave you examples earlier of how some of my student’s parents couldn't necessarily participate or engage with the school in some ways, but they found other ways to do it, right?

They had other assets they brought to the table. And so when we leverage like family's assets and the funds of knowledge that they bring, they're able to then do more of deciding how they want to participate, and how they're able to instead of saying ‘the school only offers me the one of these six ways to participate and I can't do any of them.’ So instead, it's them saying ‘Those are the six ways that you thought of. Here are some ways I can contribute. Is there a space for these?’ So it's again, coming back to that sword equal partnership, not just one party telling the other what to do.

Jessica Webster: As I'm listening to you talk about that, I'm thinking about, that sense of advocacy and equitable partnership is really thinking about honoring those family funds of knowledge.

So we talk a lot about that in family engagement. Can you break that down for us? And why do you think that family, like honoring those funds of knowledge is essential for engaging our families?

Jenny Portillo-Nacu: Yeah, I love talking about funds of knowledge. So it came out of some ethnographic research and it was interesting because it was conducted by folks who were classroom practitioners.

Right? And so they were able to engage with families by coming into their homes and really understanding the backgrounds of families and what knowledge they had accumulated just from life. So there are different sources of funds of knowledge, but some examples can be like, Yeah. The world views that families have that are structured by their broader historical and politically influenced social forums.

So I think about, for example, my mother grew up in the middle of a civil war in Guatemala and Central America. She's got a lot of understanding of the way, that. War affects smaller communities, right? That's something I can read about, but that's something she's experienced. And so she has these worldviews about the impacts of war that are influenced by, by, by how she was socialized in that space.

Families can also have academic and personal background knowledge. A lot of times we forget that families, might not be able to leverage the education they got in their home countries because of issues with reciprocity and having to get recertified. And it's really challenging, but families have a lot of academic and personal knowledge, background knowledge, and that's another source of funds of knowledge.

We also another important piece of funds of knowledge is the resilience that families have. A lot of times we think about how do we talk to students about persistence and making sure that they are resilient. What better source to go to for the actual learning than families who have come into a new system, have adapted, and made it their own?

They have that resilience already, and they can speak to it much better than any of us could, right? If we're just conjuring it as a story, also skills and knowledge used to navigate everyday social context, right? The skills that you have in being able to navigate like just going grocery shopping has a lot of value to it.

When I think about the types of skills we try to teach, especially at the early childhood level, families are engaging in that sort of negotiation, interpersonal connections, all of these different things. And even at the high school level, if we at the, and at the secondary and higher ed level, if we have families that engage in different types of work, they're negotiating, they're having to deal with the real impact of economic structures, all of these things, that's valuable. And it's something that you can leverage in learning, you just have to be intentional. And the last piece would be like, just their accumulated life experiences, whether it's raising a family, starting a business, buying a home, these are all life experiences that again, have a place in the classroom and in supporting students learning.

And so when you leverage funds of knowledge, it really means that you acknowledge what families bring to the table and you validate it. And you validate it the same way that we validate what more, I guess a lot of the research calls it dominant groups. White affluent American, families contribute.

A lot of times we think they have higher education, a particular white-collar job, particular language, and we value those things, right? And we invite them for the career days, we invite them to contribute in different ways, but we forget that families who don't have that still have other strengths that they bring to the table, these funds of knowledge that can still contribute.

And so while a family might lack a formal education or a formal American education, there's still a lot of learning that they have to offer and a lot of knowledge that they have that can and should be leveraged and validated.

Nikevia Thomas: Wow. Thank you, Jenny. Thank you so much. That was that's that's really deep.

So, honoring families’ funds of knowledge is a key principle for family engagement. So if a school wanted to begin by adapting their current practices to engage and empower families as true partners at the table, where should the school begin, and are there certain family engagement practices that yield higher impacts than others?

Jenny Portillo-Nacu: I can't emphasize this enough, but the first thing that schools really need to do is listen to families. It seems like such a no-brainer, but so many times we make assumptions about what families want and about what they need with the best of intentions, right? There's never a question of that, but oftentimes we can miss the mark because we're not actually asking our families in our community ‘What is it that you need and how can we support you?’

One example could be throwing out like a coat drive or something along those lines, or food collections, other things of that nature, thinking that's how we can best support families when really that might not be the thing that they want. And other examples could be misunderstanding sometimes that what families might want is to jump into having the academics conversations about their child, but maybe they need something more basic than that.

If they're coming in that survival stage, as I was mentioning earlier, they might be more concerned about just having access to health care for their child, and ‘What are some community resources for child care that you can point me to for out-of-school time because I need to make sure my child is the safest place that they can be when I'm at work after school.’

And so we need to make sure that we're understanding where families are in their needs and in their wants, instead of us assuming that for them, right? Because what can happen is we can unintentionally end up causing more harm than good in that way. So that's the first thing, is really making sure that we're listening to families.

This can look like conducting family focus groups, conducting surveys, conducting interviews, town hall meetings. Another important thing that can be used, leveraged in this way to really listen to families, is to leverage families who do understand the system, that are more at that cultural connector or cultural leadership level, that have been in the country that because those levels of where, of immigrant family involvement don't depend on how long you've been in the country. You could have been here 35 years like my parents, and they're still at that survival level, right? But you have families who've learned the system who maybe are second and third-generation families of Multilingual Learner students who are very familiar with the system, and they can be leaders, right?

And so schools can take the step of empowering those families to lead. Family networks of support where there have been lots of programs around the country that have started what's called family cafes, where they bring families together in a shared space and they're able to engage with one another in the language of comfort with people.

They know, and its families, teaching other families about the school system, helping them advocate and navigate. And so that's another key principle around this, that school should really think about is how to leverage the existing leadership in among families and among the community.

The other thing I would say that's really critical is for schools to not think they have to reinvent the wheel. A lot of times they can reach out to family advocacy and community organizations, faith-based organizations that already have really deep connections with the community and the families, and think about ways to partner with them so that they can really have a sustained effort.

But there has to be a system in place for all of this. It cannot be left up to an individual teacher or group of teachers. So schools really need to think about what high-level plans can we make. And for example, you're asking are there some practices that yield more impact than others? Definitely.

The Flamboyan Foundation has this sort of spectrum of low to high-impact family engagement activities and there is a place for the potlucks and the celebrations and the back-to-school nights. But if that's where your efforts stop, that's where you start to unintentionally create barriers for families that want to be involved more deeply than that.

And so that's where we start getting into home visits. Goal-setting conversations, classroom observations, involving families in the actual learning and curriculum that happens in the classroom, right? But all of those higher impact strategies require that you have support in your school leadership as well as buy-in from individual teachers that will need to implement.

You need to have grassroots support and top-level support as well. And so schools need to start by having an authentic planning process and team that involves families, then the second step would be there to listen to those families, and third from there again, would be to take informed action.

That's really guided by the needs in the community and not by assumptions that are being made about the community.

Jessica Webster: As you're talking, I just keep thinking about that whole sense of like into the individual versus the collective and how do we move more towards that collective response by even allowing and encouraging, making space for organizing that collective approach within the community.

That's what really resonates with me as you're talking about this. Let's switch gears a little bit, not much, but we want to talk a little bit about some of the resources that we have that you've been instrumental in participating in. We know that you helped create the MAEC publication, 21st Century Learning at Home, A Guide for Families and Caregivers of English Learners to support project-based and deeper learning at home [21st-Century Learning at Home: A Guide for Families and Caregivers of English Learners to Support Project-Based Learning at Home]. Can you share with us a little bit about this resource?

Jenny Portillo-Nacu: In case that name wasn't a mouthful, right? It really tells you what it is. So I actually started writing this resource when I was an intern for MAEC and I was going through one of my graduate programs and it was in the middle of COVID, so it was all remote learning and then eventually some sort of hybrid learning across the country that was happening. I was taking a course on this concept of deeper learning and really started thinking about what more authentic and rigorous forms of learning look like, and I started realizing there's a lot of gatekeeping that happens when it comes to project-based learning.

When it comes to inquiry or problem-based learning, there's gatekeeping that happens when it comes to Multilingual Learners, students with disabilities, et cetera, where we basically say ‘Student blank student group isn't ready for this until they can do blank.’ And so for Multilingual Learners, often we say they're not ready for more rigorous, authentic learning, et cetera until they know enough English.

And what we really don't realize is that often it's the student groups that we're keeping from these types of learning that are actually most stand to benefit and grow from them. And so English Learners are often isolated into learning the four domains of language, just speaking, reading, writing, and listening in really inauthentic ways. Like ‘You're going to do this type of vocab practice, you're going to do this type of speaking practice.’ It's really isolated, right? When you engage in project-based learning, you're doing all of this authentic practice with language, because now you're working with peers and having real conversation, you're writing for a purpose and not just filling out a worksheet.

You're listening for a particular type of learning. And again, it's more than just an isolated exercise in the vacuum of a single classroom, and it's becoming a more transferable opportunity to really practice language in an authentic way. All of this got me realizing that families need to be a part of this too.

And so I started developing the guide and really thinking about how do we support families in providing this rigorous, authentic learning? While students are clearly not receiving the normal day's instruction, right? Like remote learning, wasn't always full day for students. And then even hybrid learning was creating all these gaps and families were really saying, ‘What can I do to support my child?’

So all of this together contributed to me coming up with this resource, which if you look at it to most teachers, it'll look like a series of lesson plans for families and that's truly what it is. It's a resource that offers some background on what project-based learning is for families so that they can do it at home.

It offers some, like some of the research behind how it supports language development, and it offers six different projects that families can do that are appropriate for a variety of age levels. And what I started doing was thinking about what would a family need that maybe a teacher would know and not necessarily need as much of?

For example, it includes scaffolded question prompts. Some feedback I got from folks was ‘Sometimes I asked my child a question, like, how was your day today? And they say, fine, how do I keep the conversation going?’ And I included question prompts that families can ask that are working different skills within project-based and 21st-century learning, which are those four C's, right?

Creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication. And it includes projects that are really designed with a culturally responsive lens that leverage the resources and the knowledge that families have at home. All of these great things I was just telling you about. So it's an amalgamation of all of these things, but I can walk you through the components.

So every project has a purpose section that describes what the project is and what it's trying to accomplish. It gets, has a getting started section that lists suggested materials, timelines. Then there's a questions for children section, which is those prompts I mentioned that families can also use to get their thinking going before they even do this with their kids.

It outlines like some instructions, a process in the instruction section. It also includes a sample sort of script under each instruction step so families get a sense for what a conversation might sound like. There are some scaffolded handouts for anyone who needs them and then additional activities and resources, and again, all of the projects are geared towards creating an authentic product. So for example, it can be a presentation to your family, or it can be like a family cookbook that's developed that then you can actually use. Or it can be, distributing a resource to your people in your community. So there's always something that goes outward.

It doesn't exist just in the confines of that project. And it's funny because a lot of this was also inspired by my own family. I have a nephew who is, who's ten years old, and during this time my brother was really struggling to figure out how to support his learning. And so he noticed that one of the scripts, for example, features his, my nephew noticed it features his name and like his identity and things about that.

And so it just was a resource that was really born out of a really personal, need that I saw in my own family for supporting student learning, but also again, just this history of knowing that project-based learning is one of those things that Multilingual Learner students don't always get access to.

Jessica Webster: It's definitely a great resource and one that I think schools could help use to leverage and really bring in some other families and build up their capacity and confidence to partner with schools at home.

Nikevia Thomas: Yes, I completely agree, and we're going to use that in one of our projects.

Jenny Portillo-Nacu: Good, use it get it out there.

Nikevia Thomas: So one of the ideas we promote through CAFE is that family engagement. is much more than communication about what's happening in school, and in order to engage families of English Learners, we really have to think of ways to build capacity of families to gain the knowledge and skills to navigate the U.S. school system.

So how can schools support families in order to build capacity and agency in our communities?

Jenny Portillo-Nacu: One of the things that I mentioned earlier was PD for families or like professional development, professional learning for families, on a variety of topics. It can be catered to whatever, again, the family, the community need is, or the family's needs are in the particular school system.

But a lot of times, one of the most powerful ways you can build capacity is doing shared capacity building between school staff and families. So a shared session, if it's around what engagement looks like, for example, ‘What does equitable engagement mean?’ Where you have families and teachers sitting in the same space. What kind of more powerful dialogue can that generate right? Then them being able to share in that space.

Other things other ways that schools can support would be like, what I mentioned earlier is creating sort of family and parent networks where you can build family leadership. A great example is an organization called Logan Square that really builds a lot of family capacity.

They're based out of Chicago, I believe, and they do a lot of work around supporting family leaders in the community to really connect with other families that are feeling less capable of navigating the system or who are newer to the country, have more barriers. And it's really about leveraging their leadership because now, again, there's already a trust factor built in because these are folks from the community who are.

Also supporting their kids at the same time. I also think it's important to think about on the school side of it. This isn't families building families capacity necessarily, but it is about building a school staff capacity around the importance of family engagement and how to do it in a way that's culturally responsive and equitable.

And so it's really important, because then if you're addressing mindsets and your practices for staff they're going to be better able to also, on an individual basis, build family capacity, whether that's one on one calls around goal setting for their kids, or it's bringing families into the building to be able to support instruction, right?

If a teacher is doing a particular unit that has overlap with a family's occupation-bringing them in. But if we don't build teacher capacity to do that, they won't know how to engage. So it's a sort of bifurcated thing. You have to build family capacity, and then you have to build staff capacity to engage with families at the same time.

Jessica Webster: So another resource, and we had talked about this, you hinted at it earlier, when we were talking about building advocacy skills for our families. MAEC has another great resource called ¡Adelante! Moving Forward!, and that's a guide to empower parents of English Learners to advocate for their children. So what is this resource and how do you envision families and schools using this as a resource?

Jenny Portillo-Nacu: I'm a huge fan of this resource. I'd love to be able to say that I had a hand in writing it, but I'm just a big user of it, big proponent of it. So what Adelante is all about is it's not a resource that you would hand a family and say, ‘here, take this and go’ in the same way that the parents guide that around 21st-century learning is, this resource is really about supporting Multilingual Learner families.

And like I mentioned earlier, learning their rights, so it helps them understand legislation that applies to their students. The access to services that they need to have in terms of translation interpretation, what their rights are around engagement because legislation does dictate around how what kind of engagement there needs to be for Multilingual Learner families and also helps families who have students who are also classified as having a special education need.

And so what the guide does is that it provides like a scenario, usually like a real-life scenario, and then it offers some reflection questions for the families or caregivers to answer. Then it gives a quick sort of knowledge-building piece where it teaches them again about whether it's policy or legislation or federal things.

And then it has them reflect on next steps and provides resources. So the way we envision this resource being used is that a school, a family advocacy organization, a community organization, would offer this almost as a workshop where they would host a session where families would focus maybe on one of the key components of the guide, maybe it's all focused on translation interpretation mandates, right?

You invite families, you walk them through the scenario. Some feedback we've gotten in presenting on the on Adelante is ‘What about families?’ again, making assumptions about family literacy levels and access. And one of the things we talked about is the scenario can be role-played. Like the scenario can be role-played, it can be recorded as a video, there's flexibility with how it gets used. And then you have families have real discussion about this and you educate them on their rights, but it's all done in an accessible way.

So we're not going to pull out, Title III and go over the ins and outs of it or the Every Student Succeeds Act, instead it's ‘You have a right to translation and interpretation services. This is what you should have. It cannot just be Google translate.’ Or ‘You have a right to be engaged and you have parental rights within the school building. And this is what that sounds like.’ So again, this isn't a resource that you would just hand a family and say, ‘Go read’ It's something that would be a shared learning experience.

So we talked about, having a PD experience for families. This would be one resource you could use to do that. And it's really powerful the way that it brings some really high abstract concepts and language down to a level that's really accessible for anyone to be able to understand and work with.

Nikevia Thomas: Wow. Thank you so much for sharing about Adelante, Jenny. We'll be sure to add a link in our, in the description of this episode so folks can access it. And that really concludes this episode of the Corner CAFE Podcast. Jenny, sincerely, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your expertise on family engagement in education.

Jenny Portillo-Nacu: Thanks for having me and letting me, talk about this topic that I'm so passionate about. It's really critical as we think about the growing population of Multilingual Learners that we have in this country and just how valuable it is to involve different communities’ voices within the life of the school. And, that's how we make sure that we're supporting every kiddo the way that they should be.

Jessica Webster: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think we all agree that we're super passionate about finding ways to make sure our schools and families are working together. So thank you for joining us.

And to our listeners, thank you for sharing a cup of conversation with us. And we hope that you've enjoyed the conversation today until next time, keep those meaningful relationships with families brewing. And don't forget to follow us on X at CAFE_MAEC.

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