(Better Resources In Developing Good Education)


By Mariana Vergara, Program Associate at the Institute for Urban and Minority Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.

August 22, 2007
An endorsement

For the past two years I have had the opportunity to work with Ms. Mariana Vergara on the design and field development of a parent education and child development project that is titled “BRIDGE” (Better Resources in Developing Great Education.”) The Vergara work is directed especially at children and their families who are English language learners, however, much of what she is doing is very appropriate for children who are disadvantaged by their ethnic status or by poverty.

Bridge is working with villages in the
Rain Forest of South America
to help protect their Rain Forest

News In South America

In addition to direct interventions in the teaching and learning transactions to which children are exposed, Vergara gives special attention to the needs of parents who are not sophisticated in traditional approaches to the support of the academic development of children. The model recognizes the holistic needs of children; the information needs of parents; and the practical needs of both for guidance in and models for the adjustments and adaptations that both must make. It is of interest to note the correspondence between what Ms. Vergara has developed independently and the recommendations from the recent study by Appleseed, It Takes A Parent: Transforming Education in the Wake of the No Child Left Behind Act. Models for much of what these investigators have recommended, based upon their study of extant policies and practices, are available in the approach to family support for child development reflected in the Vergara work. I am pleased to commend this work to your attention.

Edmund W. Gordon
John M. Musser Professor of Psychology, Emeritus
Richard March Hoe Professor of Education and Psychology Emeritus
Teachers College, ColumbiaUniversity


Family as Educator

Parents are often referred to as the children’s first teacher.  In deed families carry the primary responsibility for the acculturation and socialization of their children. These responsibilities for the acculturation, education and socialization challenge the immigrant and/or socially disadvantaged parent, perhaps, more critically than does the provision for financial support.   Intellect, physical skills, and strength remain transferable across cultural and national borders. Cultural competence, on the other hand, is less portable, but is the primary resource needed by adults who must mediate and orchestrate the out of school as well as in school teaching and learning experiences of their children. To address this problem we propose a program designed to better prepare financially disadvantaged families and others in similar circumstances to:

  • Exercise personal agency;
  • Acquire and utilize cultural competence;
  • Acquire and utilize appropriate parenting skills;
  • Guide the help seeking behaviors of children; and
  • Navigate, mediate, and orchestrate academic and personal developmental learning experiences for their children

This proposal sets forth a system for beginning the process of building a BRIDGE® between parents, students, communities and schools. Using guidelines from No Child Left Behind ("NCLB"), the BRIDGE® program creates this partnership and assists students to excel academically and personally. BRIDGE® is a growth model pilot program that adheres to the core ideas of NCLB; BRIDGE® uses school culture, student/family support and professional development to produce a fair, reliable and innovative program based on Section 2 of NCLB. BRIDGE® also tracks individual student achievement from one year to the next, empowering parents to hold schools accountable for results while supporting continuous review of the program’s results.

Along the path to realizing the programs goal of improve school performance, the BRIDGE® program facilitates parents and guardians to productively interact with the public school system by empowering financially disadvantaged families, providing leadership opportunities for community groups, and strengthening the ties among school, community and family.

Project Description: The BRIDGE® program uses NCLB ("No Child Left Behind") guidelines and targets students “at risk” of failing academically. BRIDGE® facilitates training and partnering schools with parents and community agencies with a goal of achieving academic success for students. The program educates parents about the American educational system and its academic opportunities for their children. BRIDGE® assesses students and intervenes to address the academic and personal needs of immigrant and/or financially or socially disadvantaged families through individually tailored out-of-school time services. BRIDGE® also provides professional development for educators working with English language learning students who must be well versed in the social and cultural competences the lack of which may impede students’ educational progress. Additionally, BRIDGE® works with these families addressing their "cultural shock" by helping them adjust and immerse in the main stream American culture by informing them about cultural awareness, American educational system, ESL classes and parenting skills training.

How BRIDGE® Implements What Federal Law NCLB Requires
On parental involvement in particular, NCLB’s key provisions reflect an action framework that tracks the three overlapping elements of effective parent-school interaction: information, engagement and advocacy. The BRIDGE® program focus on implementation of each of these points, as discussed below:

Information: Recognizing the opportunities and challenges of parental awareness about student and school performance, the BRIDGE® program provides information to immigrant families about the expectations, challenges and opportunities in the American educational system. The program guides parents to better understand the choices that are available for their children in the public school system. We focused on guiding the immigrant parents to make choices that are better for their children in the American school system in order to be prepared them to pursue post secondary education.

The BRIDGE® program teaches parents about the American educational system, its challenges and opportunities. Major communication challenges, however, remain. The problem is not a lack of good data about student and school performance. In fact, parents from several of the focus groups from the Appleseed Study expressed frustration with receiving too much data, which proved to be overwhelming. Rather, there is frequently no way to extract clear timely messages about what the performance data mean and then what parents should do in response.
For instance, standardized test scores provided directly from test publishers often use highly technical language and unexplained terms. As a result, parents reported that they were not able to determine what skills the test scores measured or what the report told "or did not tell" them. This problem was worse for parents in poverty and parents who are not proficiency in English. BRIDGE® explains parents about the test scores and the state standards, and most critically, explains what steps may be needed next to improve a student’s performance and understanding.

Engagement: The BRIDGE® program interacts with families and community agencies while working closely with the local school district, to serve as a bridge between parents and schools by supporting parents as they learn about the American educational system and seek to help their child academically. The program seeks to open the doors of the school to parents and community groups, and form a partnership of support for all students.

BRIDGE® provides professional development for educators working with Latino and international students because they must be well versed in the social and cultural circumstances that may contribute to impeded the students’ educational progress. Additionally, BRIDGE® works with these families addressing their "cultural shock" by helping them adjust and immerse in the main stream American culture by informing them about cultural awareness, American educational system, ESL classes and parenting skills training.

Advocacy: Effective parent advocacy based on good information and informed engagement, plays a critical role in student and school performance. Given the many competing demands that principals and teachers face every day, it is incumbent upon parent "often in concert with community organizations that provide much needed support" is their child’s best advocate. BRIDGE® fills this role by bridging the gap between parents, schools and community agencies to support the academic and social development of students.

As part of the BRIDGE® Parent component, we help parents to better communicate to schools by translating at parent-school conferences and translating documents. Also, the BRIDGE® Parent component includes teaching parents about the use of computers to communicate with teachers via e-mail.

Since this is a model development and refinement initiative, plans include a design for the formative documentation and evaluation of the implementation and impact of this project. The development and evaluation of the project will be processed under the supervision of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.  

Mariana Vergara