Some people choose to not own a car. Some people can’t afford one. Others do not have drivers licenses. The last two are the main reason that many of my students do not attend after school functions. I did not take this into account when I planned my Parent Night. I thought, if I offer free food and gifts, then surely they will come! Then when I began to talk about it, the students began to wilt. My dad does the driving, my uncle is using our car, my mom can’t drive, we can’t come. I can’t give them all rides, so what am I supposed to do? This event that is intended to create bridges and opportunities for parents to become more involved further alienated them and disappointed my students. I could see it in their eyes, one more thing that they wouldn’t be able enjoy.During our conference “scramble” at the beginning of the year, teachers come together to plan conference times for families. Many of the students I serve were commented on. “Oh, put them at 7:30 in the morning. They never show up any way.” And sure enough, when conferences rolled around, only a good 30% of my student’s parents actually showed up. I had to go pick up one family. The uncle had called the school to explain that they weren’t going to make it. He said it in very broken English and did not understand when our secretary tried to reschedule. He had the only phone and was leaving to go to a job with their father. When we called back, he was no longer home. I decided to go over to the house to pick them up. I walked up to the small, disheveled home and knocked on the door. The oldest answered and looked very surprised. Her mother was still in her pajamas and breakfast still littered the table as she scurried around to clean exclaiming, “lo siento para mi casa.”
As her eldest translated, I explained that I could bring them to the conferences. I asked Melina how many would be coming and a small child peeked around the corner. Turns out there were more than I expected! But I didn’t want to try to figure out how to explain that I could not legally drive all five of them in my car. So we just went with it. Walking out the front door, we hear a door slam next door. Suddenly I hear, “So you don’t need a ride then? Thanks for telling me. Next time don’t ask…” The neighbor is livid. The mother begins to panic, directing her middle child to go to tell her that they were so sorry. She kept putting her hands to her head. With mother crying and the fourth grader awkwardly trying to explain to an upset neighbor, I am unsure whether to go ahead with it.
I tried to call out to the neighbor and explain that they didn’t know I was coming and that it wasn’t their fault. The neighbor muttered to herself and slammed back into her house as she exited the scene. We all stood around. I apologized and the mother just shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. So we all piled in my car, illegally with the child on the mother’s lap. I attempted to speak Spanish as best I could as we drove up the long road to the school. All that for one ride. I don’t care what anyone says…there is no way that I believe that immigrants have it easy. Living one day in that environment would leave me feeling unsure and devalued. This is daily life for this family. No wonder it is a challenge to increase parent involvement among ELL students.