Staff Call on DPS Board to Improve Parent Engagement Through Language Justice

Last night, during public comment at the DPS board meeting, our State Organizing Director and Digital Organizing Manager thanked DPS board members for their work to strengthen parent engagement in DPS by improving Language Justice and called on them to take the next steps to advance their goals. Here is more about what has happened in DPS to improve Language Justice so far and what we want to see next. 

Read their testimonies below:  

Hello, my name is Vallerie Bustamante, DPS Alumna, co-chair for the Latine Education Advisory Council, and the Digital Organizing Manager for Stand for Children. First, I want to welcome the three new board members, congratulations, I look forward to working with all three of you! 

I am here to talk about language justice, but in order for me to do that, we need to rewind time to about 19 years ago—the year little Vallerie, started Kindergarten in DPS. Back then, the only language I knew was Spanish—in fact, I was monolingual until I was about 9 years old. Because we are certainly not counting the times I would pretend to know English and would actually be talking jibberish to my mom. But my mom certainly went along with it.  

Anyway, I still remember the hardships other students would go through when they knew their mom or dad couldn’t or didn’t know how to come talk to the teacher or whoever to support them with homework or the events that would happen during the school year due to there being a language barrier. Fast-forward to today, I have been given the honor to work alongside families and educators that want to promote and practice family engagement so bad—yet, some of the challenges I remember from 2005 to 2010 as a little girl—are still present today.  

Specifically, I have worked with monolingual Spanish-speaking moms who want to learn how they can best support their child with literacy at home. These workshops that I facilitate have a lot of content, but one topic that always stirs up dialogue is family engagement and building a connection with the teacher to work with them for the student. I want to say, in about 95% of all workshops that I have facilitated over the past 4 years, the topics of the sense of belonging and language justice always come up. I have parents tell me of their experiences where they seek information or a conversation with a teacher, and if there is no bilingual staff in sight—they get dismissed with no follow up. Times when they feel unwelcomed by the demeanor some educators have when parents who do not speak English arrive or seek a meeting. That isn’t language justice. This isn’t an environment where we can build authentic family engagement for the betterment of our students.  

I am looking forward to working with you all, to implement simple solutions to improve the practice of language justice in our school buildings, as well as any DPS facility. I am hopeful that we as a district, as a community, are always seeking innovative solutions to improve the trajectory of our student’s education and future—especially those that come from our most marginalized communities.  

Thank you for your time.  

Vallerie Bustamante, Digital Organizing Manager, DPS Alumna

My name is Ivana Bejaran, I am the State Organizing Director with Stand for Children and I am here today to talk about Language Justice and how we can make sure we are building a DPS that feels welcoming to parents, guardians, and caretakers.  

I grew up with Spanish as my dominant language. My parents sacrificed everything to ensure I learned English and had the brightest future they could give me. By the time I was in my twenties and living in the United States, I was the unofficial translator for them. I think when you live in a place where you know the predominant language, you don’t even wonder what it would be like to not speak it. So many of our systems assume that by having documents in other languages and having (a not easily accessible) interpretation service, the language barrier is solved.  

I’ll share that when I was in my twenties, I assumed the same thing too. My dad is about 80% fluent in English and had a very important doctor’s appointment so I wanted to go support him. He declined the interpreter that the hospital could provide because he felt like it made him stand out too much, made him feel othered, andhe knew how to speak English… he could do it.’   
As soon as the appointment was over, he turned to me and asked me a question about something the doctor had very clearly stated minutes ago. He just didn’t understand it. And didn’t feel like he could ask the doctor to clarify. At that point I realized that because we live in a system that discourages difference and makes people feel othered when they need additional services to participate in society, so many people just like my dad are only partially understanding what is happening. This happens every single day here in DPS. 

Some examples I can share with you. I’ve had parents call me and forward emails to me that they received from the district in English asking me to translate them. One of the most important ones was an application to be in the DAC. I have been asked by parents to accompany them to important school meetings about their children because they trusted me to ensure they understood the information that was being shared with them. And lastly, I’ve been called countless times by parents or guardians who just walked into a school and were turned away because no one in the office that day could speak their language. Would you feel welcome in a space like that? Would you feel like you belonged in that building, in that district? 

Language justice is not a thing that is one and done, it is a practice and the more we do it and understand that it’s real people like you and me on the other side of this, the better you will be able to serve adults in the community. Because of this, we would like to see the district address their commitment to the practice of language justice by providing a training for all DPS teachers and administrators, before school starts next year, about how to access and offer interpretation and translation services to adults in the community without making them feel othered or like its extra work.   

-Ivana Bejaran, State Organizing Manager

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