• by Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • May 1999

Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed.A new national network of parents was formed at the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) 1999 conference held in January in Denver. Numerous parent leaders from across the country convened to protect and improve bilingual education for their children. Excitement and dialogue continued throughout the highly participatory sessions held as part of the parent institute.

At the closing meeting, participants agreed to form a coalition of individuals and organizations. The current, operational name of the group is “National Coalition of Parents for Bilingual Education (Coalición nacional de padres en pro la educación bilingüe).” The NABE board agreed to support this parent network for bilingual education.

The young organization is a natural and expected culmination of many diverse efforts by parents and supporters of parent leadership to publicly support excellent bilingual education for all children. In recent years, there has been increased participation by parents at local, state and national conferences. Bilingual advocacy organizations have increased their support for parent involvement.

Last year at NABE ’98 in Dallas, hundreds of parents from across the country convened in a parent institute that focused on two-way bilingual education, high standards in school and leadership. Last fall at the Texas Association for Bilingual Education (TABE) conference held in San Antonio, parents from all parts of Texas again focused on leadership in a parent institute. Similar events have occurred in California and other regions.

The institute in Denver succeeded because of the persistence of key individuals and groups: Rudy Chavez and Kevin King of the BUENO Center for Multicultural Education of the University of Colorado – Boulder (Mr. Chavez served as the overall local conference committee co-chair); Guillermo Serna, a parent from Colorado and strong voice on the NABE executive board; David Portillo and the parents of Padres Unidos in Denver; Richard Garcia and Rebecca Orona, of the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition; and Anna Alicia Romero from the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) in San Antonio.

Parent institutes have proven to be effective for several reasons beyond the obvious learning, leadership development and networking. When an institute is held in conjunction with an educator event, parents and educators can collaborate and learn from each other outside the school setting. Several lessons were learned and reaffirmed at the NABE parent institute in Denver. They include the following.

  • Local and state efforts are what really bring such institutes together.
  • The participation of parents from all parts of the country gives the institute its power and breadth.
  • Parents want to be leaders and have much to say about education.
  • Parents are most powerfully engaged when they are asked key, critical questions and are allowed time to respond and dialogue.
  • Parent institutes need an ongoing participatory strand for parents by parents that is focused on advocacy, leadership development and networking.
  • Concurrent sessions that are popular but have parents as passive receivers of information and sessions that are focused on parenting skills should not detract from or compete with the advocacy and leadership development focus.
  • Local and regional problems can distract parents from forming coalitions and developing concrete plans of action for parent recruitment and leadership development.
  • NABE can and will support parent leadership for bilingual education.

Challenges to the bilingual education advocacy community include determining the following:

  • How to channel the resources of bilingual education advocacy groups and associations in the country to support parent leadership and parent coalition building.
  • How educators can take concrete action to support parent involvement and leadership – including getting significant numbers of parents – to meetings and conferences.
  • How bilingual advocacy groups can develop ways to have strong, vibrant numbers of parents as members without membership fees and conference registration costs being a restraining force.
  • How bilingual advocates can support creating a strong local, state and national coalition of parents who are pro-bilingual education while at the same time not draining the financial resources these organizations need for advocacy.
  • How to shift the focus of conferences as showplaces and marketing opportunities for individuals and groups and move toward the desperately needed focus on advocacy, organizing and moving bilingual education from a politically beleaguered battle to a triumphant, universally accepted offering that most families will demand for their children in all schools.
  • How to shift the view of parent involvement
    • from a deficit model (though usually innocently seen as benign) that assumes that parents (or certain types of parents) are not good enough as parents, teachers, etc., and therefore need to be fixed, cured, improved or otherwise changed to the correct model envisioned by educators and others,
    • to the valuing model that recognizes parents as intelligent, ready to act in their children’s defense and just needing the opportunity to be heard and to connect to like-minded parents and others to take action.
  • How to shift the view of parent representation
    • from one individual selected to participate arbitrarily on the basis of charm, personality or acquiescence,
    • to support for leadership teams – groups of parents supporting each other in revolving leadership and encouraging others to be leaders.

There are many challenges, but there are also fabulous opportunities. Our current struggle with bilingual education foes is just the 1999 version of a larger ongoing struggle. Each action in defense of bilingual education is also an opportunity to listen deeply to parents and their needs, wants and desires for their children.

Many parents whose first language is not English continue to struggle for the economic, social and spiritual well-being of their families. These efforts spring from a profound commitment, strength, tenacity, intelligence and all those other qualities that are fed by love for their children. Our biggest challenge is to help all parents channel some of that awesome strength and those marvelous energies to create a strong bilingual voice for all children. Parents and families deserve our organizational support to organize themselves to save, protect and improve not just bilingual education but our total public school system.

To join or support the National Coalition of Parents for Bilingual Education contact the initial conveners:

  • David Portillo, director, Centro de Padres Unidos (2009 West 33rd Avenue, Denver, Colorado 80211; phone 303-458-6545, fax 303-458-5635; padres5@dnvr.uswest.net).
  • Anna Alicia Romero, education assistant, and Aurelio Montemayor, lead trainer, IDRA (5835 Callaghan Road, Suite 350, San Antonio, Texas 78228; phone 210-444-1710; fax 210-444-1714; contact@idra.org).

Aurelio Montemayor, M.Ed., is the lead trainer in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at contact@idra.org.

[©1999, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 1999 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]