Milford schools ‘building bridges’ with English learners

MILFORD — The English learner population in the Milford School District continues to grow, making up a significant part of the district’s student body.

Sometimes, however, the language barrier can prevent EL families from getting the most out of their educational experience, said Sharlitta Gilbert, an EL teacher for the district.

Milford wants to change that, which paved the way to “Building Bridges,” an effort to connect multilingual families with each other, the district and community resources. The program is a continuation of EL family meetings, which started last year.
“We saw how successful that was last year and how needed it was, and we wanted to definitely bring it back this year,” Ms. Gilbert said.

The virtual meetings will be held on the first Wednesday of each month, beginning Dec. 2 at 6:30 p.m., and will cover a range of topics, like accessing student grades, college readiness, child car safety and food distribution.

The district plans to survey parents at the first meeting to see what they’re interested in. Spanish-speaking and Haitian Creole-speaking interpreters will be there to support.

As the district geared up for phasing into hybrid learning — which still relies on utilizing some remote instruction — the administration made sure that all families had access to technology and to the internet. Families will be able to use their children’s computers for the meetings.

“We understand that it’s not just teaching of the standards that’s important to our students, but it’s also helping them navigate learning how to seek support, looking for where they can access support, whether it’s immediately within the school district, whether it’s reaching out to a local agency or even if it’s just reaching out to an adult,” said Dr. Bridget Amory, the district’s director of student learning.

Often, families have similar requests, but they’re at different schools and have children at different ages. This program allows the district to provide information to families across their schools and makes communication consistent, Dr. Amory said.

“Pandemic or not, they’re a group of families that we want to continue to actively engage with, to be able to provide the support that they need,” she said. “Our EL students do come to us with some unique needs, and so we want to make sure that we’re working to meet their needs as much as we possibly can, not only the students but also our families, as well.”

The district recently added an additional interventionist to help connect families in the district to community resources, Dr. Amory said.

One of the district’s challenges has been that families have done their own networking through different community organizations, churches, etc.

“Because of the pandemic, they’re impacted in some ways, and they aren’t able to do that as often or as frequently as they would like,” she said. “So this is just one more way for us to provide an opportunity for our families to connect — and even just make the human connection with one another — but also to help connect them to different resources and just to some of the understandings that are necessary to help navigate public school.”

Dr. Amory noted that the district is “committed to helping support and educate the whole child.”

“That is inclusive of their family,” she said, adding, “The whole idea of Building Bridges is that we can build that bridge between home and school, to make sure that we’re providing avenues for our students and our families to ensure success as they move forward.”

Those interested in attending the first Building Bridges meeting Wednesday can access it at meet.google.com/biw-uexy-eqr.