Middle school reaches out to Spanish speakers

Published 7:18 am Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Most studies on education agree that parental involvement is crucial to student achievement. One study claims each time a parent comes into a school, test scores improve.

With this in mind, Southwest Middle School Principal Marsha Langseth challenged her teachers. Before school began, she asked at a staff meeting if the teachers would be willing to try something new. She asked them to personally invite the families of some students who are struggling to achieve grade-level standards to attend orientation day at Southwest, since in previous years fewer of their families had attended orientation than others.

Teachers learned some phrases in Spanish, one of which was the invitation and the time and date, in case they needed to try to communicate in Spanish. They also carried a written invitation in Spanish and English to leave with the families.

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Each team of two to three called on three families’ homes. Sometimes no one was home, but if families were home, teachers were welcomed with enthusiasm.

Imagine the look of surprise (or shock or horror) on many of the students’ faces when they opened their door only to find two teachers standing there! What could a teacher want in August? Imagine their relief when they knew it was only a personal invitation to orientation for school.

Many of the families came to orientation, where an interpreter was available to explain information if needed. Ms. Langseth felt it was a success because some of the families who attended orientation hadn’t attended before. Many of these same families also came to their children’s mid-quarter conferences.

I applaud the teachers for making house calls; it is not an easy thing to do. The school board, teachers and staff of our district want each student to know that we care about their education.

Health food

Another change that was implemented this fall involved our wellness program. Through the Blue Zones initiative, Leslie Lytle, a professor in the Department of Health at the University of Minnesota, worked closely with Mary Nelson, District 241 food service sirector. Our district is now serving more fresh fruit and vegetables to the students.

The school board and administrators also approved revisions to the wellness policy that discourages “junk food” and encourages healthy eating. We now encourage elementary students to bring raisins, nuts, cheese sticks, granola bars, fruit and the like for snack time.

Pop is no longer sold in vending machines and no fast food is allowed to be brought in for students’ lunches.

Some nutrition facts that led us to this decision involved the staggering number of children that are obese and suffering from type-2 diabetes in this country. If students learn healthy eating habits now, these good habits will become a way of life, reducing the risk of future health problems significantly.

We also felt that students will be able to focus better on school work if they have a healthy diet, not one with lots of caffeine, sugar and empty calories.

Both of the issues — personally inviting families to orientation and encouraging healthy eating — are small steps with far-reaching, positive effects.

Sally Ehrhardt is a member of the Albert Lea school board.