Immigrant parents learn how to track their children’s progress online

Parents attending Kentwood Public Schools’ EL Parent Academy gather around their translators in the library at Bowen Elementary School

The library at Bowen Elementary School was anything but quiet on a recent evening, when several dozen parents learned how to explore the website containing their children’s grades during the Kentwood Public School’s EL Parent Academy.

As instructor Pam Thompson explained the features of the school district’ s Parentvue program for some 40 parents in attendance, she paused so 11 translators in the room could interpret what she said in their native tongues.

With nearly 9,000 students and more than 60 languages spoken in the home, Kentwood is the most diverse school district in Michigan. The district is embracing its diversity by hosting the EL Parents Academy, designed to show parents how to use the Internet to track their children’s grades and progress in school.

The interpreters simultaneously translated Thompson’s lecture into Rohingya, French, Karen, Hakha Chin, Tedim, Burmese, Spanish, Arabic and Nepali. It was the fifth two-hour workshop in the seven-night program, designed to teach immigrant parents how they can use technology to help their children learn in school.

“We’re not working to overcome the language barrier, but to accommodate it,” said Blair Feldkamp, the principal at Bowen who assisted in the workshop.

Parents and their translators watch as Pam Thompson, administrator for Kentwood Public Schools’ ParentVUE system, explains how to find their children’s grades online

Reaching Out to Immigrant Parents

Sponsored by the Steelcase Foundation, the program hires translators who are fluent in parents’ native languages, provides childcare for the evening, free transportation, a free meal and at the end of the session and gives each family a laptop they can take home.

Thompson, who administers the ParentVue and StudentVue programs, shows parents how to use the online tools to track children’s grades and communicate with teachers and administrators via email.

The site, which is updated by teachers at least once a week, is used by more than 80 percent of Kentwood students from grades 6-12, Thompson said. Showing non-English speaking parents how to use the tools brings them in touch with the opportunities being afforded their children and their performance.

Bawi Them closely followed Thompson’s translated explanation of the site. A Burmese immigrant, Them came to the U.S. in 2016 with her five children, ages 3 to 21. Through her translator, she said she appreciated the opportunity to learn about the schools her children attended.

After Thompson spent the first hour of her lecture showing the features of ParentVue on a wall screen, she and Feldkamp passed out the laptops to give them hands-on experience.

“Remember, you have to be exact when you type in the address. You have to type it in exactly as it’s written on the board,” Feldkamp told the group as Thompson went from table to table to make sure they got connected.

In addition to showing parents how to access their children’s records on ParentVue, Feldkamp also showed them how to access sports scores, athletic schedules and other district events.

Earlier workshops showed the parents how to access the Internet, taught them about Internet safety and Internet fraud and introduced them to the Kentwood Public Schools’ website. Guest lecturers included local police officers and bank administrators.

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James Harger
James Harger reported on West Michigan's economy, courts and politics for The Grand Rapids Press and Mlive.com for more than 37 years. He also is employed as Servanthood Leader at Immanuel Lutheran Church in downtown Grand Rapids. A graduate of Central Michigan University, he also has worked for publications in Holland, Mount Pleasant and Lansing. He is married to Lisa and has one daughter, who lives in Ann Arbor. Read James' full bio.

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