BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Imagine you just arrived in a foreign country. You can't speak the language and your kids need to go to an unfamiliar school.
At registration, you don't understand the officials. You have no experience with the local educational system and may be unaware whether services are in place to help your child acclimate.
That's exactly what many Hispanic women in Bridgeport face, said Barbara Lopez of Make the Road CT.
Language is a key barrier for Hispanic mothers when it comes to getting involved in their children's education, she said.
"It affects how parents communicate with their child's teacher and finding services like help in reading or math. Then [school officials] wonder why some kids are not doing well in school," said Lopez.
She is parent organizer for the group that formed a year ago with the goal of forming a committee to help immigrants become part of their children's education.
Make the Road CT helps immigrants get involved in their communities and lift themselves out of poverty by providing legal and support services, civic engagement opportunities, transformative education and policy innovation, according to its website.
Lopez said the committee meets weekly and has made strides in the past year.
The group has met with community members to learn about issues particular to immigrants. Members have also started to advocate to make sure workers have fair work schedules.
In addition, there are projects in the works to organize youth so they can learn their rights in education and become active in various ways, such as organizing workers for a fair workweek.
Recently, leaders conducted a survey among 300 parents to identify the needs in their children's schools. The surveys will be a basis for a report that will be presented to Bridgeport schools, said Lopez.
In the meetings, the mothers learn their rights, she said.
"We have six to 10 moms. We conduct workshops for mothers to get to know their rights in the schools and childcare centers," Lopez said.
"There are many issues in public school, from, 'My kid is far behind in math or English,' and not reading at the right level, to not getting the professional services they need."
The main issue, Lopez said, is to identify, then convey to education leaders, that language access is the barrier to success.
The committee hopes to come up with its recommendations by March or April. These include calling on the schools to provide certified or trained interpreters, and make sure materials for parents are provided in a language of their choice, Lopez said.
Click here for more information about Make the Road CT.
Contact Barbara Lopez for more information about the parent committee at 203-520-3144 or firstname.lastname@example.org