English Learner Families Connect to Resources

Cuarenta y cinco familias. Seis idiomas. Conexiones de la communidad.

Johnston police officers and community members meet to share resources.

Johnston Police officers meet with parents from the Karenni community.

Forty-five families – speaking more than six languages – attended the first Johnston English Learner Family Night in October to make community connections. Non-English speaking parents and children within the Johnston Community School District were invited to learn about both school and community resources.

Last spring, the Community Education Resource Council began discussing its community needs assessment and realized they were missing a vital demographic: non-English speaking families. It was then that Nancy Buryanek, Director of Community Education, decided to meet with Johnston’s English Learner (EL) teachers to find a way to reach these parents.

“The community needs assessment focus groups required input from English learner families,” said Buryanek. “The idea was to create an event where we could focus on them and learn their needs.”

But that wasn’t all. Buryanek and the EL teachers wanted to provide families with resources they may not have been aware of, in addition to learning their needs.

“The goal was to help them learn something they didn’t know before the event,” Buryanek said.

Events geared towards EL families are usually culture based, according to EL teacher Debora Strong.

“It’s always great to celebrate culture, but it’s more helpful to share resources,” said Strong. “I want all families to feel like we support them.”

Plans were made, a date was set, and flyers were created and translated into Johnston’s six main non-English languages: Mizo, Spanish, Bosnian, Vietnamese, Swahili, and Karenni.

Students enjoyed games and open gym during the English Learner community night.

Students play in the gym while their parents learn about available community resources in the cafeteria.

Community resource groups were invited to attend and share information with the help of interpreters. Speakers included members of Johnston Community Education, Johnston Community School District’s Nutrition Department, Johnston Police, Johnston Public Library, Heartland Area Education Agency, Johnston Partnership, and the Goodwill’s Career Connection Center.

As the first event of its kind, everyone walked away having learned something new. Except maybe the students, who walked away exhausted from a night of fun games, crafts, and pizza.

“It was a success,” said Strong. “We succeeded in connecting parents to resources, and while there’s more to be done, that’s what really matters. I can’t wait to do this again.”

Strong said there will definitely be a repeat of the event next year, ideally sooner.

“We want to continue to find the best ways to reach out and make connections,” said Buryanek. “For the school district, but also for the community and all of its families.”