Back to school for immigrant parents

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Schools can provide strong footholds for immigrant children in their new communities. Aside from access to critical learning opportunities, such as English as Second Language classes, they are able to become involved in sports teams, clubs, and other community activities that help ease the transition to life in a new place. Immigrant parents, however, do not always have such a relatively easy way in to their new neighborhoods and cities.

The Quad-City Times recently highlighted how the Rock Island/Milan School District found a way to reach these parents through its Lights ON for Learning program. The program is run by the Rock Island County Regional Office of Education and is supported by many community partners, including the American Red Cross, the Rock Island Park District, and University of Illinois Extension Center. Lights ON for Learning has provided English as Second Language classes for students over the last eight years and—as of last year—the program is striving to reach the parents of their immigrant students.

Lights ON for Learning’s family literacy component is helping immigrant parents in Rock Island learn English in an organized manner (rather than, perhaps, through occasional lessons from their children) and their new community. Classes are held in the evenings at a local church and child care is provided. More than passing on basic information about enrolling their children in schools, the classes give parents a chance to get to know neighbors who are dealing with many of the same challenges that they are experiencing and an access point to their new community.

Not every community is in a position to provide as comprehensive a program as Lights ON for Learning, but it provides many ideas that can be replicated. One key to establishing such a program is identifying the need—reaching immigrant parents through the school system is a great option—and another is recruiting community partners in order to utilize local expertise.