A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Family Involvement in Children's Education - October 1997

Hueco Elementary School:

Promoting Cultural Understanding and Communication in a Rural School
Socorro Independent School District
El Paso, Texas


Parent involvement at Hueco Elementary School revolves around easing the cultural and communication barriers between school staff and parents in this low-income, predominantly Hispanic school. Hueco's parent involvement program, which the principal and a core group of parents developed with a set of clearly defined goals in mind, includes parenting and adult education classes, family math nights, monthly school and classroom newsletters, a parent volunteer program, and home visits. The principal and assistant principal coordinate the program, with help from the school counselor and a parent volunteer coordinator. This year, Hueco adopted the Success for All program developed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University to ensure that all children possess adequate reading skills by the time they reach third grade.


Located on the rural outskirts of El Paso, Hueco Elementary School serves 600 children in preschool through grade five. About 98 percent of the children at Hueco are Hispanic, and 95 percent qualify for free- or reduced-price lunches. Because more than half (56 percent) of the children at Hueco are limited English proficient, roughly half of the classes at Hueco offer bilingual instruction. Like all schools in the Socorro Independent School District, Hueco offers year-round schooling, with the school year beginning in July, and three one-month "intercessions" in October, February, and June. Hueco operates a schoolwide program and implements site-based management.

Breaking Down Barriers to Family Involvement in Schools

Hueco staff identified several challenges to its goal of increasing parent involvement in the school, including skepticism and misconceptions among parents and staff about the role each should play in the educational process, a lack of staff training on parent involvement, and language and cultural differences between parents and staff. When the current principal arrived in spring 1993, she set up a parent involvement program to address these barriers.

Overcoming Time and Resource Constraints

Finding the time for school staff and parents to communicate can be difficult. For this reason, staff at Hueco are encouraged to conduct home visits, which can take place either during the school day or after school hours. A team that can include the assistant principal, the school nurse, the school counselor, and the child's teacher conduct these visits. The principal requests that teachers make at least one home visit to a student in their class, which can be to the family of a student who is doing poorly in school or is consistently absent, as well as to a family of a student experiencing success in school. Teachers can use release time during the school day to conduct the visits, while their classes are covered by a permanent substitute assigned to the school, by other teachers, or by classroom aides.

"When you visit the home, and talk to the parents, and see the conditions the children live in, you are much more understanding of the children and better able to help them."

School counselor, Hueco Elementary School

Although many of the teachers who do not speak Spanish are uncomfortable conducting home visits, they receive support and encouragement through training conducted by a parent involvement coordinator. In addition, the bilingual assistant principal and school counselor accompany teachers on all home visits.

Providing Information and Training to Parents and School Staff

Based on her experience building parent involvement at another school in the district, Hueco's principal implemented several strategies to make the school more inviting to parents. She began by offering both parents and staff the information and training they need to build self-confidence and trust and to communicate with one another.

Parenting. Hueco offers workshops and classes for parents throughout the year, which have included:

Hueco offers parents other courses for their own personal improvement and education. These courses have included:

"As parents become more involved in their own education, they can become more involved in their children's education and see that school is not just for the children, but for the whole family."

Parent, Hueco Elementary School

Training parents to support learning at home. Hueco parents are also encouraged to become involved in their children's education through the Success for All program. Program components for children include a 90-minute reading period at the beginning of each day and homework that consists of reading to a parent or family member for 20 minutes each evening. Children may read books they have at home or borrow books from their classrooms or the school library. Parents must sign a homework log-in sheet to verify that their children are reading to them.

In addition, all families participate in the Super Readers program at Hueco, which provides incentives for parents to read to their preschool, kindergarten, and first-grade children. Children in the second half of first grade and in grades 2-5 also participate in the Super Readers program, although they must read to themselves. Children receive awards for the number of books they read or have read to them; to qualify, the younger children require a parent's signature, and the older children must submit a book report. Every six weeks, the top reader at each grade level receives a Super Reader tee-shirt, and the top two readers in each class receive books and other small prizes. All participating children get to attend plays during each six-week period, and both they and their parents receive a diploma at the end of the year. The school librarian administers the program and encourages parents to support their children's participation in the program by describing the merits of the program at Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) meetings and in the monthly school newsletters sent home to parents.

Engaging working fathers is a challenge for Hueco because the majority of the parent workshops and classes are offered during the school day. This year, the school will develop a father-son/father-daughter program that will offer parent-child learning activities of interest to fathers on weekends or evenings.

Communicating with families. To increase communication with all families and to provide a forum for parents to air their concerns, Hueco began a monthly Parent Communication Council. This council, open to all parents, allows parents to share their concerns about the school with the principal and assistant principal. Last year, issues raised during these forums included the lack of consistency in assigning homework among teachers and the quality of the food served in the cafeteria. Between 20 and 30 parents attend Parent Communication Council meetings.

In addition, Hueco's principal publishes a monthly newsletter for parents that provides school news and parenting information. Individual teachers at Hueco also prepare monthly or weekly supplemental newsletters for parents that provide information on upcoming classroom activities, current topics of study, homework assignments, and tips for helping children complete their homework.

"Now, there's more of an understanding between the parents and the school...with more understanding, we're better able to help the children."

School counselor, Hueco Elementary School

Staff training. Last year, members of Hueco's School Improvement Team invited a successful parent coordinator from another school district to the team's meeting to share her experiences with parent involvement and home visits. She was invited back to offer all staff this training.

To date, three staff development days have focused on tools for effective implementation of the Success for All program, including tools such as tutoring, cooperative learning, and other strategies for helping children learn how to read. There will be a total of seven similar staff development training sessions during 1996-97. In addition, several teachers, together with parents, the principal, and assistant principal, will make a site visit to a school in San Antonio that has fully implemented the Success for All program.

Restructuring Schools to Support Family Involvement

Hueco has undertaken some school reforms designed specifically to support family involvement and emphasize collaboration between the school and home. In addition to the Success for All program and its family support team, these reforms include (1) creating a parent volunteer program that relies on parents to help with instructional activities and decisions, along with more traditional volunteering activities, and (2) site-based management to involve parents in school decision-making.

Success for All family support team. As of the 1996-97 school year, Hueco implemented a family support team as part of its implementation of the Success for All program. The team, which will meet twice a month, will be charged with determining actions the school can take to support children experiencing problems with schoolwork or behavior. The Success for All facilitator will provide training for the team members and for parents interested in becoming Success for All volunteer tutors for children. Members of the family support team include the principal, assistant principal, the district psychologist, the Success for All facilitator (who is a former teacher), the school counselor, the school nurse, the librarian, and several teachers.

Volunteering that improves student learning. The parent volunteer program calls on parents to contribute in new ways that include reading to small groups of children in classrooms, tutoring children individually, working in the school library and office, and helping supervise children in the cafeteria and on the playground. Beginning this year, volunteers will also set up a reading corner in the cafeteria during student lunch periods. Every day at least three parent volunteers (two that speak Spanish and one that speaks English) have children read stories to them. For children whose parents are unable to listen to them read on a given night, this reading period satisfies the Success for All homework requirement that children read to an adult for 20 minutes each day.

A parent volunteer coordinates the program, assigns parents where they are needed, tracks volunteer hours, and helps teachers recruit new volunteers. She also administers the monthly volunteer recognition program, which is housed in a parent room that also serves as the classroom for the parent workshops. This room is divided into two halves--a work area and a classroom. There are usually about 50 parent volunteers in the school each week, with 25-30 volunteering daily. To acknowledge their contribution to the school, Hueco holds volunteer recognition ceremonies on the first Friday of each month.

Parent participation in site-based management. Parents participate in site-based management through Hueco's school improvement team. The team meets monthly to discuss progress on school goals and to make decisions on curriculum, instruction, staffing, and budgeting. Two parents serve on this team, along with the principal, assistant principal, ten teachers, the school counselor, the school librarian, and a community representative.

Bridging School-Family Differences

Overcoming language and cultural differences. Between 60 and 70 percent of the parents of children enrolled do not speak English. The prior principal and assistant did not speak Spanish, and upon her arrival, the new bilingual principal began to conduct parent meetings in both Spanish and English. She also instituted an "open door" policy for parents; now, all home-school communications and parent workshops and activities are conducted in both languages. The school purchased translation equipment to ensure that all parents can participate in school activities and events; bilingual teachers and parents serve as translators. As a result of these efforts, parents are more comfortable in school because they can communicate in their own language.

Cultural differences between the home and school also present a challenge. In the Hispanic culture teachers are so highly regarded by parents that many of them entrust their child's education solely to teachers. To encourage parents to take a more active role in their child's education, the staff at Hueco use orientation sessions, workshops, parent-teacher conferences, and other school events to emphasize the importance of the parent as their child's first teacher and to stress how much the school needs and values their involvement.

Boosting parents' comfort with math. Hueco offers parents opportunities to explore math with their children in a non-threatening atmosphere. With the help of a district mentor teacher whose salary is paid by a National Science Foundation grant, Hueco offers a family math program. Two sessions were offered during the 1995-96 school year, 1 for the early childhood students and 1 for the third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders. This year the school offers 4 sessions, one for children in preschool through grade 2, one for children in grades 1 through 5, a combined session, and a final session for students in grades 3 through 5, to focus on skills required for success on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS).

Teachers and students together plan family math nights. Older students lead the sessions and oversee 10-12 stations with hands-on activities for parents and younger students. These nights focus on themes such as Metric Olympics for students in grades 3-5, where parents and children engage in activities such as estimating the distance traveled by a paper discus at a discus throw station or averaging the distance of several throws at a cotton ball shotput station. Students in preschool through grade two participate in a Cranberry Fair where parents and children explore questions such as, "Do cranberries float?" "How high do cranberries bounce?" "How much do cranberries weigh?" and "What happens if you put a cranberry in a 7-Up?" The number of parents attending the family math nights with their children has increased consistently, from about 30 parents at the first session during the 1995-96 school year to roughly 75 to 80 parents at the first session of the 1996-97 school year.

Tapping External Supports for School-Family Partnerships

Hueco's schoolwide program supports the majority of parent involvement efforts; additional costs are minimal. All workshops and activities are conducted by school staff or community representatives acting as volunteers. About $30 a month of Title I and general funds provide snacks, supplies, and incentives for parent workshops and activities. The Success for All program is also funded primarily through Title I funds. The Super Readers program receives donations from local businesses, PTO fundraising, and district general funds.

Hueco collaborates with community-based agencies and organizations to provide its parent involvement activities. Last year, representatives from two community organizations, Aliviane, Inc. and the Child Crisis Center, offered parenting education classes at the school site to Hueco parents at no cost. A child care worker from the local YMCA also volunteered her services last year to provide free child care during parent classes. Local businesses also donate resources, such as pizza parties by Peter Piper Pizza in El Paso, for the class with the most parent volunteer hours.

Evidence of Success

The principal reports that Hueco parents have become increasingly engaged in school activities. For example, the number of parents involved in at least one school-related activity increased from 30 percent in the 1994-95 school year to 80 percent during the 1996-97 school year. About 50 parents volunteer in the school each week; 25 to 30 of these parents volunteer daily. PTO attendance averages about 100 parents for each of the monthly meetings, with attendance sometimes as high as 800--more than one parent for every child enrolled in the school. During the 1995-96 school year, volunteers contributed a total of 6,320 hours to school activities.

Staff report that the breadth and quality of parent engagement have also improved since the program began. Early on, parents engaged primarily in fundraising activities and clerical work for teachers. Now, parents have a role in school matters through the Parent Communication Council, participate in classroom instruction, further their own education by enrolling in parenting workshops and adult education classes, and contribute to their children's education by promoting learning at home.

The principal and her assistant report that students benefit from the parent involvement program. They note an average attendance rate of 97 percent. They also believe that students whose parents come to parent workshops and activities experience more success in school and fewer disciplinary problems. Staff also believe that the parent involvement program, along with other recent school changes, contributes to the school's status as a Title I "recognized school" during the 1993-94 and 1994-95 school years, which is based on student scores on the TAAS. To be recognized, all Title I students in a school must score at or above the 70th percentile in all areas on the TAAS, including reading, writing, and math. This year the school barely missed being recognized; the fourth-grade students scored in the 69 percentile in math. Also, Hueco has been on the district's "top 10" list for parent involvement and parental programs for the last three years.


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