TONASKET – Children of migrant parents or others who speak very little English face daunting challenges when they start school for the first time in a district such as Tonasket.
The Tonasket PAC (Parent Action Committee) has for years worked to garner resources for ESL (English as a Second Language) students and their families, and recent attendance at their monthly Spanish-language migrant family meetings has shown that those efforts are bearing fruit.
Each month during the school year, migrant/bilingual families are invited to attend meetings at the elementary school. The meetings are designed to provide assistance to families to help their children fit into the district, provide tools in helping with their children’s education, and give parents a chance to express concerns, ask questions and receive information with the help of translators.
About 40 family members attended the Wednesday, March 21, meeting, which emphasized math and also featured a presentation and question/answer session by superintendent Paul Turner addressing the district’s hopes of extending the school day next year.
“It’s a work in progress,” said bilingual paraprofessional Norma Gutierrez. “We started this about eight years ago to make all the families know they are part of the district. As interpreters here, we are like the bridge. Since all the Hispanic families meet together here, it makes it easier for us as the ‘middle guy’ to pass on information to the school district about what they want to learn and what their concerns are.
“It used to be five or 10 parents coming, and now its between 30 and 60. It’s just so worth all the time and effort.”
Gutierrez said that, with more than 125 bilingual kids in the elementary school alone, a team effort between the teachers, administrators and parents has been crucial to helping children who enter the district with little or no English-speaking ability to adapt to their new environment.
“Parents want to be a part of it,” she said. “They just want to be sure they’re allowed to be. It’s taken years. It hasn’t been easy. The staff has been so welcoming to parents, little by little working to build their trust.”
During Wednesday’s meeting, elementary school math coordinator Steve Robeck demonstrated a math game with three children designed to help them master multiplication schools, and explained through interpreter Martha Wisdom how family involvement in similar activities would help their children master those and other skills.
“When parents and schools work together,” he said, “amazing things can happen with our children.”
Middle school math teacher Joyce Fancher explained math assessment, student placement, evaluation, and remediation.
“We’ve found that for a lot of kids who may not understand language or reading as much, math makes sense to them because they understand numbers,” Fancher said.
Tyler Graves, Tonasket’s ESL teacher for grades K-8, is in his first year at the school but said he’s been impressed with the program.
“Norma and Martha have told me how much it’s gaining ground,” he said. “The PAC itself meets during the month and have been very involved and energetic.
“The big thing is getting our migrant families into the school, getting them to be part of the school, raising their awareness and listening to them. They have a ton of good ideas, and we want to make sure they have the opportunity to share those ideas and thoughts.”
“The goal is to develop knowledge and skills for the parents, too,” Gutierrez said. “When the parents have limited skills, they can gain some of those through our modeling. Our team feels that if you have an educated parent, you have an educated child.”