When Hazar Mouazen came to the U.S. from Syria four years ago, she faced some daunting challenges – learning to live in a new country, adjusting to a different culture and learning a foreign language.
“I didn’t speak or read English,” Mouazen said. “Everything was different for me and my family.”
But Mouazen found help in overcoming those challenges when her son started school at Cimarron Elementary, a school with one of the strongest parent engagement programs in the state.
Cimarron was recognized as a model of successful parent engagement by the Colorado Department of Education on Oct. 1 at the kickoff event for Colorado’s Family and School Partnership in Education Month, as proclaimed by Gov. John Hickenlooper.
One of the most diverse schools in the Cherry Creek School District, the Cimarron student body consists of 58% students of color. Cimarron families speak 15 different languages, including Amharic, Arabic, Bosnian, Cantonese, Mandarin, Esan, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swahili and Telugu.
The school offers a number of programs that help parents like Mouazen, including a free Family Literacy program to help parents learn English. The program is sponsored jointly by the district and The Learning Source. Parents come to the school for two-and-a-half hours, four days a week.
“One day is parent time, where we talk about their role as parents in the school and in the community,” said Family Literacy teacher Michelle Daining. “Two days are English classes and the fourth day is ‘PACT’ or ‘Parent and Child Time,’ where parents spend time with their child in their child’s class.”
“I listen to the teacher, I’m learning how to help my son with homework,” Mouazen said.
“We have the opportunity to see how our kids are doing and how we can help our kids at home,” said Tere Lopez, whose daughter is a first-grader at Cimarron.
Raquel Lopez, parent of a first-grader, said “It helps me help my son be successful.”
Daining says the Family Literacy program benefits parents, students and classroom teachers.
“It really helps bridge the differences. It helps parents and teachers connect with each other. There’s a benefit to other kids as well when they see parents learning,” Daining said.
The federally-defined Family Literacy program also provides child care for young children while parents are in class, and in return, parents who participate in the program are required to volunteer their time at the school, further strengthening the parent-school relationship.
The Family Literacy program is just one part of Cimarron’s successful parent engagement efforts. The school also holds Math and Literacy Nights, which are fun and educational for the whole family. Cimarron has a Padres Unidos group, which supports Latino families, and a PASS group. PASS stands for Partnerships for Academically Successful Students. The group enables parents of color and school staff members to discuss issues of race, equity and closing the achievement gap and empowers them to work together to ensure the academic success of all students.
Cimarron’s support for students and families doesn’t stop there. Because nearly 60% of Cimarron students qualify for free and reduced lunch, an indicator of poverty, the school also helps connect families with health and wellness programs and other community resources.
But Cimarron’s principal, Diana Roybal, says the bottom line is relationships.
“We can do all kinds of activities but if we don’t build relationships and model connections, the activities don’t have meaning,” Roybal said. “It is my goal to continually create a positive and welcoming school environment where teachers and parents partner together in an effort to support every child’s success. The foundation of that partnership is built on relationships and trust.”
At the Oct. 1 kickoff event for Colorado’s Family and School Partnership in Education Month, Dr. Elliott Asp, Colorado’s interim Commissioner of Education, highlighted the importance of parent engagement. He said research shows that students whose parents are involved in their education tend to get better grades and higher test scores, have fewer absences and behavior issues and are more likely to attend college.
Roybal said she is seeing positive results at Cimarron.
“Cimarron’s data continues to improve year after year. We exceeded state averages on both social studies and science CMAS results,” Roybal said. “We had a record 88% of students in grades 2-5 who met and/or exceed math growth targets as measured by our spring MAP test. Our equity achievement growth gap in math has declined to 3%.”