Last spring, Staten Island parent, Clara R., received an introductory flyer from P.S. 44 regarding the Department of Education’s new Family English Initiative. Immediately, Clara recognized that she had just been presented with an opportunity that she could not refuse.
“I had never seen anything like this (program) before, so when this opportunity came before me, I just had to take it,” said Clara, whose son, Alexis, is set to begin first grade this September.
Launched in March 2017, the Family English Initiative, or FEI, is a family engagement program that seeks to help parents obtain English language instruction alongside their English language learning (ELL) children in grades K–2.
FEI consists of three major components: Family Literacy sessions, student supplemental instruction, and adult ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes. Family Literacy sessions provide FEI pairs with opportunities to learn everyday English through reenactments of common scenarios and conversations (think “check-out counter at supermarket” or “ordering food at a restaurant”). After the Family Literacy sessions, students and adults split up into separate classes where they continue to develop their English language skills.
“This is a wonderful initiative, as it allows parents to communicate better with their children, which, in turn, brings their families even closer together,” said Yolanda Torres, executive superintendent of the DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement (FACE). Ms. Torres leads FACE’s ongoing efforts to strengthen the bonds between schools and the families they serve. FACE helped create FEI to help eliminate language-related barriers that can keep non-English speaking parents from fully participating in their children’s education.
Ms. Torres added, “Through this initiative, we are emphasizing the importance of creating safe and welcoming school environments where all parents can feel at home. These parents want to learn, and it is their desire to learn and participate that is helping to break barriers. Thanks to FEI, these parents now feel like they are part of their children’s school communities, and have a vested interest in their children’s education.”
Clara R. agrees. “FEI is the absolute best program. It has been great for my son’s education, as I can now help him at home with his work now that I know what he is learning. And I see that my son now feels more confident in school since we started in June. He completes his classwork and answers his teachers’ questions with confidence now, especially when we are in the same class together.”
FEI began in March 2017 as a 12-week Saturday program in District 7’s P.S. 25, District 8’s P.S. 62, and District 25’s P.S. 120 and P.S. 242. In July 2017, FEI continued as a 6-week summer program that ran Tuesdays–Thursdays in a second cohort of schools: District 7’s P.S. 5, District 25’s P.S. 120, and District 31’s P.S. 58.
The schools selected for this pilot initiative were chosen after taking into consideration their respective locations, student population, and languages spoken within their communities, among other factors.
Many of the parents participating in FEI have never studied English before. Some parents are using the instruction they receive from this program as a means to carry out their lifelong goals. One mother even said that she wanted to learn English so that she could get certified as a dentist in New York, just as she was back in her home country.
“I’ve received requests from principals who see the value in this concept and want to incorporate this initiative into their schools, too,” added Ms. Torres about FEI. “What they felt was the most compelling aspect of this program is that parents really seem to enjoy learning alongside their children.”
Ada Suárez, a teacher at the FEI program at P.S. 58 this summer, has seen the positive effect that the program has had on parents firsthand.
“Parents want to feel like they are part of their children’s schools; they want to know what their kids are learning, and they want to help them with their homework. That is exactly what this initiative is doing, as it is opening up doors for parents so that they can see what their kids are doing in school and figure out how best to help them at home.”
Going forward, the DOE will continue to test and evaluate FEI through pilot programs at select schools throughout the City. To learn more about FEI, including potential school sites, email us at FamilyEnglish@schools.nyc.gov.