Cincinnati’s population of New Americans has grown in recent years, largely due to an increase in families fleeing violence, persecution, drought, or other existential challenges in their home countries. They arrive as refugees and asylum seekers, or just as people seeking brighter futures, to a city where they don’t speak the language or know the culture and society. Almost from day one, however, they entrust their kids’ education to our public schools, and often it is those kids who are their most powerful gateway into this new place. When those children are asked to be both the cultural and language interpreters for their parents, in addition to adjusting themselves to totally new environments, a lot gets lost in the mix - especially the direct empowerment of parents and families.
That is why we have been thrilled to partner with Cincinnati Public Schools to help their leadership listen to and learn from New Americans in the CPS community. In addition to two lunchtime discussions with ESL instructors, nonprofit partners, and school principals, we organized and facilitated two community conversations with parents. The first involved Spanish-speaking parents from Guatemala, Venezuela, and Mexico, and the second included families from Syria, Egypt, Bhutan, Rwanda, and Mali. They were able to share their concerns and ideas for how to improve district communications directly with CPS’ Assistant Superintendent and the Chief Communications Officer.
Cohear’s community organizer Jessica Moore worked with our friends at Heartfelt Tidbits, Santa Maria, and individual CPS schools to invite parents, and made sure there were interpreters for Spanish, Arabic, Nepali, Bambara, and Kinyarawanda.
Real engagement takes time and commitment, and it honors people for their everyday expertise. When you put in the work, though, it is so worth it. By showing respect and by listening, CPS leaders build trust with these families. As importantly, the parents are more empowered to share their opinions, to pose hard questions, and demand better from their public schools in the future.
They didn't know about school board meetings - now they do. They haven't been receiving that much information in their native language - now they will. They weren't sure how or when the decisions were getting made about COVID - now they are. And CPS leaders don't need to guess what their families need, now they know what tangible improvements could be.
We are so grateful to our Bridgebuilders, partners, and to the decision makers in our school district who want to do better by the families they serve. There is obviously an endless amount of work to do, but with this project it felt like the bonds of community were strengthened, and it was a glimpse into what a million evenings like these could mean for our fractured country.
Oh, and it was so cool facilitating conversations across six different languages!