I Thought Every Family Felt Welcome at Family Night – But I Was Missing Something

by | 11.19.19

Eric Saibel is an educator in California and a co-founder of Global School Play Day. Follow him on Twitter @ecsaibel.

Connecting with our students’ families means a lot to me – and it makes a huge difference for our school culture, too. When families are engaged, our students are more engaged. So I love welcoming them into our school community on family night. 

I’ve been at my middle school for six years, but this fall was the first time that members of our staff – my brilliant assistant principal Dr. Toni Brown and our DELAC team – came forward and said, “If we really want to make every family feel welcome here, we have to do more: We need to have translators, and we need to provide babysitting.”

I hadn’t realized it, but my colleagues were right. Many of our English language learners have families whose primary or only language is Spanish or Portuguese, so for them, our big welcome could feel more like a challenge, or even a worry. And a lot of families would never have a way to tell us that they didn’t have a means of taking care of their little kids during the event – and without babysitting, they weren’t going to be able to show up at all. As educators, when we look at our schools and talk about addressing institutionalized racism and implicit biases, this is a perfect example. 

I’m a former Spanish teacher, and I’ve worked with so many English language learners – so, supposedly, I’m someone who would already know that we need to build these bridges! But over time, it’s easy to develop blind spots. So this year, we decided that family night was our chance to show our students’ families that we were taking a big step toward including everybody. 

We put the word out that we needed translators, and it was absolutely incredible to see our current and former students flowing into the school to provide that service for families. We had Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking family members volunteering to help with translation, too. And our student leadership organized a little daycare. As I watched our students’ families walk into a family night that truly welcomed and supported them, I knew we were showing them just how important they are to our school community. 

We realized how much this approach could mean to the families of younger students in our district, too, so we extended these services to include our two elementary schools. When their family nights came, a number of our middle school students participated as translators. As an educator, I’m always looking for ways my students can connect and grow, and that was a powerful learning opportunity for them – one that helped them understand their own leadership potential. 

This endeavor was a true reflection of our school district’s commitment to every child’s success and well-being. And it reminded me that we can have an amazing impact when we’re willing to hear new ideas, identify our own blind spots (we all have them!) and try new ways of being fully inclusive in our schools – even when it comes to things we thought we were already doing well. True equity comes about when we turn our intentions into concrete actions that lower barriers, amplify inclusion and promote access for every member of our school community. Each step we take will transform school culture for our students and families in ways we can’t even imagine.

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