As a Spanish-speaking parent, it’s difficult to advocate for my children’s education

Kensington mother Santa Noyer poses for a portrait at her home on August 7, 2019. (Photo by Solmaira Valerio)

It’s difficult living in an English-speaking community when you do not speak English — especially as a parent. 

As the mother of 14- and nine-year-old daughters, I have struggled when I’ve gone to my children’s schools for parent-teacher meetings. It’s difficult when I don’t understand what the teachers are saying. At times, it has felt like my back is against the wall. 

When my older daughter first enrolled in the Philadelphia School District, she was in seventh grade and didn’t speak English. At that time, none of her teachers spoke Spanish either. Her science teacher spoke a little bit, but all of her classes were taught in English.

The first year was challenging for her. She had problems with mathematics because of the language, not because she didn’t understand math. She would cry a lot and tell me, “Mami, I had good grades in Santo Domingo, and now you took me to this country.” I told her not to despair and that she would learn the language in time.

We felt helpless, as it was not only a hard time for her to learn math but English as well. One day, I went to her school, and I confronted her math teacher, who required her to speak English in class. 

In the little English I knew, I said, “You cannot make her speak English — you try speaking in Spanish then.” I assured him that when she understood English, she would do well in math because she’s not dumb. “She’s very intelligent,” I said. 

They got along after that. 

Now that my older daughter is in 10th grade at KHSA, she is doing much better. Some of the grade directors — like the ninth grade director — and teachers speak Spanish. They support the students and also have different activities and involve the families in the school.

After she started school at KHSA, I enrolled in an English program for adults there. But while the school had the best interests for parents who wanted to learn English, it seemed that the parents, unfortunately, did not have the best interests for themselves. 

On the first day of class, not a lot of people attended. For the second class, there were only two or three of us adult students left. I thought, “Wow, you don’t know English, but you don’t have any interest in learning either. The school is giving you the opportunity to learn English for free.” 

While it was a good initiative by KHSA, without the people, the school can’t do much more because people have to go and take the class. Parents have to put the effort to attend and learn.

When I got to this country, I looked for a way to take English classes and have continued to do so. I think all public schools should incorporate English classes for the parents, like KHSA has done, for the Latino population that came here without that knowledge.

And parents should take advantage of that opportunity when it’s offered.


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Editor: Siani Colón / Story Designer: Jillian Bauer-Reese / Translator: Kristine Aponte

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