Multilingual nights at Milford Central Academy work to reach under-served families

The middle school years can be tough for students, Milford Central Academy Principal Gary Zoll says, adding that language barriers can make them even harder.

But this year, the academy is trying out a new program, offering multilingual family nights, to help ease the burden on local families.

“Erin Bryan, English Language Arts teacher, pitched the idea to Ms. [Judith] Bruns and myself because a lot of our parents who don’t speak English struggle,” Mr. Zoll said. “The goal was to really get them in for questions with monthly meetings based on their needs.”

The first meeting was held in September with 18 parents participating.

“It doesn’t seem like a lot, but we were very happy to have the 18. They were all happy to be there and came up with some great ideas,” Mr. Zoll said.

Over the next several months, Milford Central Academy leadership said it hopes to involve special guest speakers to talk about topics such as programs at the Boys & Girls Club or Parks & Recreations Department or obtaining a driver’s license.

To add to the impact of these meetings, they are translated for those in attendance in Spanish by Ms. Bryan and in Creole by a bilingual parent. “Our multilingual families contribute invaluably to our students’ academic success, but due to the language barrier there is sometimes a disconnect between their efforts at home and our efforts to support students at school. These monthly meetings offer multilingual families the opportunity to meet regularly with school representatives and communicate via interpreters, thereby bridging home and school support systems and improving student outcomes,” Ms. Bryan said about the project.

Mr. Zoll said nearly 20 percent of Milford Central Academy students are considered English Language Learners; some are brand new to the country while others remain in the program years after they began learning English. The language barrier is just one of several factors’ schools contend with in terms of testing outcomes every year.

“We made gains last year, so obviously the goal of the entire school is to try to get scores up. But, yes, they’re not as high as we’d like them to be in that population. (Students)get modifications like our special education kids do. But it is definitely a struggle to try to get them up,” Mr. Zoll said.

Outreach programs such as multilingual night could help break down that barrier month-by-month as parents connect to their larger community and the resources that are available.

“I think part of it is it’s difficult to communicate with teachers. So, when there are issues with curriculum, behaviors… it’s really tough to communicate. So that’s one of the things we’re trying to do is make that easier,” he added. “Middle school is difficult for that age for kids who do speak English, let alone those who do not. It’s a change in culture, as well, for a lot of kids. Some of the kids are brand new to the country even and are figuring out the school system and how it works. It’s hard. We want to make sure the kids and the parents here at MCA feel welcome. It’s a great opportunity.”

Multilingual nights are open to families with students in the Milford School District enrolled in grades six through eight at Milford Central Academy. The next meeting will take place Thursday, Oct. 10, at 6:30 p.m.

“We hope that our multilingual families will openly share their ideas, questions, concerns, and suggestions with us. Their perspective is invaluable, and we have a great deal to learn from them,” Ms. Bryan said. “By collaborating with and continually improving our understanding of our students and their families, we can better support the academic success and holistic well-being of our multilingual students.”

Reach staff writer Jennifer Antonik at jantonik@newszap.com

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