Getting Second-Language Parents Involved…Here’s How!

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School Library Connection is pleased to collaborate with ALA President Julie Todaro and her school library group Task Force to provide access to a selection of key professional development articles aligned with essential professional competencies for school librarians. We’ll be posting at least one article every work day between now and April 15. These articles were hand selected from our archives by an expert panel of librarians chaired by Susan Ballard, Dorcas Hand, and Sara Kelly Johns.

Competency 8: Meaningful Engagement of Families and Community

“Getting Second-Language Parents Involved…Here’s How!” by Lee Ayoub, Greg D’Addario, Anne Malleck, and Sandra Sterne. School Library Connectin, September 2015.

It’s 7:00 on an October evening at Long Branch Elementary School in Arlington, VA and the library is buzzing with the sound of many languages. Families are arriving for the monthly Reach for Reading family literacy program. The Reach for Reading team, which includes ELL teachers, the family resource liaison, librarian, classroom teachers and administrators, greet the families in costumes from Mother Goose for this evening’s program. Children become quickly involved with the beginning activity of coloring a Mother Goose character with their parents. All the while, conversation flows amongst families and students. Everyone is excited to be there.

Our first program introduces parents and children to formal reading instruction. This year we’ve decided to use Mother Goose. First, families gather and receive personal nursery rhyme readers from Mother Goose herself. Each reader is a teacher-made booklet with the five rhymes that are featured in the evening program. As children and parents rotate through each nursery rhyme station, they will repeatedly read the rhyme written on chart paper and in their booklet, help point to the text, act it out, and finally, identify it with the appropriate sticker in the booklet. ELL students benefit from exposure to nursery rhymes, which are a foundation for building beginning literacy skills, such as voice to print matching, rhyming, chanting, and dramatizing. ELL parents become acquainted with nursery rhymes and acquire valuable techniques used to teach beginning readers. The heart of the program lies in making connections with parents and encouraging them to become partners with the school in their child’s education.

The first nursery rhyme will be modeled whole group with Jack Be Nimble and his candlestick. Greg D’Addario, 1st Grade Teacher, models voice to print match by pointing to the words of the nursery rhyme displayed on chart paper and asking families to do the same in their booklet. Then Mr. D’Addario will dramatize the rhyme while volunteers come up to point to the words and the audience reads it together. Finally, families perform the rhyme by “jumping” over a candlestick before rotating through the remaining four nursery rhyme stations. At each station, families read the rhymes, acted them out, highlighted rhyming words, and added a picture related to the poem to complete their booklets. At the end of the evening, families took home their completed five rhyme booklet as well as Tomie dePaola’s Mother Goose Favorites to add to their home libraries.

Like many schools, students at our school come from a number of different language backgrounds. Our second language families disproportionately have limited education and low literacy in their first language. For nearly two decades, a team of teachers and staff have planned, organized, and implemented a family literacy program targeting preschool through grade 2 ESOL-HILT students and their families. This team of teachers volunteers their time, expertise, and funds to support the Reach for Reading program. Additional funding is provided by our Principal, Felicia Russo, and grants. We concur with the view of Arlington Public Schools that “all English language learners should have the opportunity to achieve their fullest academic, cognitive, and social potential while meeting the same academic standards that all students are expected to meet.” The Reach for Reading program accomplishes the goal of increasing family literacy with monthly meetings that include community and school information, as well as instruction and modeling of reading, writing, and classroom expectations. The program strives to provide a more equitable opportunity for the ELL student by helping parents create a stimulating cognitive environment for their children.

The Reach for Reading Team meets in August to plan monthly, themed meetings for the upcoming school year through which we model a reading, writing, math, and/or social-emotional skill. Parents practice coaching their children at school and can continue coaching their children at home. Every night begins with introducing one another at a table followed by story time and a thematic activity that involves parents and children. The evening ends with children practicing social skills and serving their parents and themselves refreshments.

In the course of the school year, we present lessons that focus on using school supplies, digital learning, math literacy, letter writing, reading with your child and playing games to support math and literacy. Families take home all materials, such as pencils, erasers, glue, crayons, scissors, rulers, dice, etc. used during the session. They also periodically take home books, journals, and academic games to keep and use at home. The program includes visits to the public library, and presentations by representatives from the community (such as sports team coordinators, park rangers, nurses and local theatre talent).

The parents find the activities and information relevant and valuable, the children enjoy working on the activities with their parents, and the community is promoting the program by word of mouth. Reach for Reading is working. The program began with 8 to 10 people attending in the late 1990s and now has grown to 80 to 100 people attending each month. Families are now attending conferences and school wide events, such as International Night, the Book Fair, and the Spring Fair. In addition, they are chaperoning field trips, volunteering in classrooms, and generally are more visible in the building. They are more integrated into the Arlington County community; they are going to the public library, participating in county athletics, and visiting local nature centers and museums.Many parents don’t have optimal resources, so it is incumbent on the school community to provide the necessary tools for all to succeed. We can level the playing field!

Lee Ayoub
Greg D’Addario
Anne Malleck
Sandra Sterne






Lee Ayoub is an ESOL teacher at Long Branch Elementary School. She earned her BA and MA in education from Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia

Greg D’Addario is a 1st Grade classroom teacher at Long Branch Elementary School. He earned his teaching licensure from Roanoke College with a BA in Environmental Policy and an MS in Sustainable Systems from Slippery Rock University.

Anne Malleck is an ESOL teacher at Long Branch Elementary School. She earned her National Board Certification and her BA in social sciences at San Diego State University and MA in education at the University of Utah.

Sandra Sterne is the librarian at Long Branch Elementary. She earned her National Board Certification, MEd, and MAT from James Madison University and George Mason University.


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