May 10, 2019 2019-05-10
By Saharí Monterrey
My colleague and I recently formed a bilingual parent group to strengthen our relationship with our Spanish speaking families. Parents repeatedly explained that the language barrier caused them to feel that they did not have a voice. Each parent expressed a desire to feel more connected to our school. Hearing this made me think, “How can we give a voice to the voiceless in our schools?” To overcome this barrier, we brought families together to record a video. Parents shared the importance of education in their families and then expressed what they wished teachers knew about them. The video has made such a strong impact in our community that it is now shown throughout Wisconsin.
We continue to meet with the families in our bilingual parent group. We listen to their concerns and take appropriate actions to create a more unified community. However, we know this is not the only group that feels they do not have a voice. It is imperative that everyone who enters our schools feel that they are accepted, valued, and respected. The key is to create a welcoming environment in our schools by building relationships with all stakeholders. By listening to groups that feel marginalized, observing their needs, and creating solutions, we have witnessed the powerful impact it has on families.
We have learned that small action steps can make a big difference. For example, I observed that many families with high school seniors found it challenging to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Parents often had questions they did not know how to get answered. My solution to address this barrier was to create an event called “Fill Out Your FAFSA Night.” I invited seniors and their parents to complete the FAFSA form in a school computer lab with financial aid advisors present to answer all of their questions. This small event had a meaningful impact on students’ lives. Their parents were grateful and felt a stronger connection to our school.
We have a responsibility to get to know our school community. We must identify barriers that exist for our students and their families for them to feel connected. Whether your school creates clubs that focus on inclusion or implements programs offering additional student support, identifying barriers is critical to reaching ALL students and families.
I challenge you to contemplate the following questions: Who would you consider to be voiceless at your school? How can you be a voice for them?
Sarahí Monterrey is the 2019 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year. As a child immigrant from El Salvador, Monterrey recognizes the pivotal role teachers play in students’ lives. Sarahí’s approach to teaching embodies a genuine belief that every student has the ability to learn and grow, and every educator has an obligation to tearing down the barriers that stand in students’ way. Sarahí is in her sixteenth year of teaching and is currently an English Learner teacher at Waukesha North High School in Waukesha, Wisconsin. In 2015, she was named Educator of the Year by Wisconsin’s Association of Bilingual Education. She was also selected as Wisconsin’s 2019 State Teacher of the Year representative to the National Teacher of the Year program. You can follow Sarahí on Twitter @WI_TOY2019 and on Instagram @wi_toy2019.