To enable students, teachers, parents, and clinicians to work together on the education and health issues facing their diverse community without cultural differences getting in the way, the Alhambra Unified School District’s Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative created an ethnically diverse Parent Advisory Board to provide a forum for families to share and discuss their concerns. The Board’s efforts to engage not only youth but their entire families in keeping the community’s students on track has resulted in a 50% decrease in truancy and a dramatic decrease in expulsions over a two-year period.
Alhambra is a very diverse, predominantly immigrant community located in greater Los Angeles. With a student body that is 53% Asian (mostly Chinese, but also Vietnamese and Hmong) and 40% Hispanic (primarily Mexican), one-third of the students are non-English speaking, and more than half are not U.S. citizens.
Staff worked with the schools to identify a variety of parents to join the board, not just community leaders. To reach out to immigrants, every flyer, poster, and communication was translated into Cantonese, Spanish, and Vietnamese, and at every meeting, translations of speakers’ comments were provided via headphones. Forty parents ultimately joined the board; many came as couples, further demonstrating their commitment to their children’s success.
The Parent Advisory Board surveyed the diverse Alhambra community to identify its concerns and what parents saw as barriers to their children’s success. The board decided to create a day-long Parent University, which included the following:
- A variety of workshops on topics related to maximizing students’ academic potential, in the four home languages
- Free breakfast, lunch, and babysitting
- Door prizes donated by the community
- Volunteer guides enlisted by the Student Advisory Group
- Skits performed by students, in different languages, on how to handle bullying
- An agency fair, with various community service agencies, mental health agencies, and after-school programs providing information about their services; many families with no previous access to services were able to sign up for Medi-Cal
To the staff’s amazement, 1,500 parents attended the event, many of whom brought their families. Teachers, school leaders, the police department, probation officers, and local and congressional leaders also attended. The Parent Advisory Board now offers family counseling groups and monthly workshops in all the home languages on requested topics. As parents began to believe that their voices were being heard, their trust in the Advisory Board deepened.
To better reflect the group members’ strong desire for their children to succeed in school and life, the Parent Advisory Board changed its name to the Gateway to Success. By tailoring its services to Alhambra’s diverse population in a culturally competent manner, Gateway encourages and fosters engagement of the entire family.