By Mal Keenan
A few weeks back, I had the honor of talking with parents and students during conferences at my school just outside of Chicago, IL. Although the time went by way too quickly, families were able to hear a bit about the students’ current performance and academic aspirations for the school year. However, what impressed me the most were the families who have recently come to this country, leaving everything they are familiar with—friends, family, jobs, and homes. Why? Education. Yes, education. These families value education in such a way that they were willing to leave their countries and start anew in the United States.
A mother from Turkey shared with me that her family left everything behind so that their two young sons could attend American schools. With just two suitcases each, the family of four arrived in the states with little English knowledge, but loads of courage to brave this new place. Another mother explained to me that she and her husband had applied for their visas fifteen years ago—long before their 5th-grade son was born. They wanted a better life in the US and feel so grateful for the teachers at my school. Truly, I was amazed at how these mothers and fathers put their trust in American teachers and value the opportunities provided in the public schools.
As each conference came to a close, I made a simple request—to please continue speaking, reading, and writing in the home language—their first language. I explained that in order to build English literacy skills, the home language must also play a significant part of the student’s life. I encouraged parents to keep telling stories, to share and discuss parts of their day, and to read in the home language so that their first language is not only valued but kept alive for these children.