How to Reach Emergent Bilingual Families

Are you looking for ways to connect with the parents of your bilingual and ESL students?  In this article, we will share tips and highlights from several Region 7 schools on ways to engage with emergent bilingual families. 

Q & A with Evelyn Sauceda, Nacogdoches ISD

Dr. Evelyn Sauceda is the Director of Bilingual, ESL, & Migrant Programs at Nacogdoches ISD.

Q.    What are some ways a school can increase parent or family engagement?
A.    Many of us have experienced low turnout when planning parent engagement events.  Some of the things that we have done to increase parent involvement include: 
  • Seek parents' input on interests and needs, as well as the best days, times, and locations for parent events.
  • Allow plenty of time to advertise and remind parents about the event and the benefits of attending.  Use social media, local radio, and flyers at local community stores. 
  • One of the most important strategies is to allow parents to be part of the planning process. 
  • Stream and record events via Facebook Live so parents can attend even if they cannot be present physically.
Q.    How has emergent bilingual parent and family engagement increased in the district, and what have been the success factors?
A.    Parent engagement at Nacogdoches ISD has improved dramatically.  We are committed to moving from compliance to empowerment.  We stopped doing what was not working and focused on best practices and authentic collaboration between the families and the community.  The use of social media as a tool to communicate and engage with our families and communities has been an asset to our success.
Region 7 ESC, Nacogdoches ISD
Picture 1: Nacogdoches ISD received the 2022-23 Promising Practices Award for excellence in Parent, Family, and Community Engagement. 
Picture 2: NISD Hispanic Alliance Advisory Committee.  Under the direction of Dr. Evelyn Sauceda, the Nacogdoches Hispanic Alliance brings together parents, educators, and community members each month with the goal of creating partnerships between families, schools, and the community. 

Q & A with Elisa Henninger, Harmony ISD

Elisa Henninger is a secondary campus administrator at Harmony ISD.

Q.    You recently had a large turnout for a Title III Parent Watch Party Event.  How were you able to make that happen?
A.    Our ESL teacher, Mrs. Morris, and Federal Programs Director, Mrs. Duke made sure that all administrators and staff were aware of this event.  Everyone had a role in helping.  It was communicated that it was important.  As a campus administrator, I was able to remind and encourage students to bring their parents.  We invited our NHS students to serve as caregivers.  We were relentless in our communication.  This included phone call reminders by our ESL staff, Mrs. Peña and Mrs. Morris.  
Q.    How can a school increase the level of parent and family engagement?
A.    It all starts with the family and personal connections.  Our students have a constant presence with our ESL teacher, Mrs. Morris.  In all effective parent involvement activities, I have learned that parents choose to be there for the person that loves their child.  Parents that create connections to teachers and administrators will, in turn, commit to anything that is asked of them!
Q.    What ways can a school help cultivate a sense of community (with emergent bilingual families or even the larger community)?  
A.    Invite them.  Include them.  Make a phone call and explain the importance of their attendance.  Allowing our parents to gather will create "family" connections via established friendships.  Sometimes creating a familiar group of adults will lead to shared accomplished missions.


Key Tips for Reaching Bilingual Parents

1.    Establish effective two-way communication between home and school.
Parents, as well as educators (and students), suffer from information overload, ranging from too many text apps to papers lost in their child's backpacks.  Decide what communication method works consistently well for your campus or district.  It may be a social media app, a simple phone call, a text, or even a home visit.  Sometimes simple is better.
Region 7 ESC, Bilingual Parent Engagement, Steven Constantino
(Constantino, 2021)
2.    Build relationships with parents.  
Easier said than done, right?  Parents are busy, and so are you.  Where do we see parents?  Maybe it's in the car line, at sporting events, at parent meetings, on social media, at church, or in the community.  How do we build relationships?  A key ingredient is having conversations that are open, honest, and a true exchange of ideas (Constantino, 2021).  Also, remember that everyone on your team has a role in building parent relationships.  
3.    Speak their language. 
Yes, but what if I am not bilingual?  You may have someone on your staff who is bilingual.  Strategically place that person in the front office or at least easily accessible to the parents.  This will remove a communication barrier and create a welcoming environment for the parent.  Making an effort to speak their language goes a long way in establishing rapport and making connections.  Remember that language is not just a means of communication; it is part of who we are.
Region 7 ESC, Parent Family Engagement, Bilingual Families, Nelson Mand
(de Galbert, 2019)
4.    Utilize Small Groups – It's not just for Kids!  (We have seen this in action, and it works!)
One way to engage parents is through small focus groups.  Being part of a group helps parents connect with other parents and is a less intimidating environment in which to share their questions, interests, and concerns.  It is also an opportunity for them to help plan parent events and become more involved in their children's education.  


Small Groups in Action

Region 7 ESC, Bilingual Parent Family Engagement, Gilmer ISD
The Gilmer ISD parent focus group meets regularly with the district's ESL team and is part of the annual Hispanic Community Event planning committee. 
Region 7 ESC, Bilingual Parent Family Engagement, Jacksonville ISD
Jacksonville ISD Parent ESL Class
Region 7 ESC, Bilingual Parent Family Engagement, Rusk ISD
One parent is teaching another how to use Google Translate at Rusk ISD.  For this parent, it meant opening a new way to communicate with people in her community.
Region 7 ESC, Bilingual Parent Family Engagement, Yantis ISD
The Yantis ISD Bilingual Mothers group meets regularly about topics that will help them and their children be successful in school and their careers. 
Region 7 ESC, Bilingual Parent Family Engagement, Lufkin ISD
Parents attended an interest meeting at Lufkin ISD, followed by weekly sessions to learn reading skills and strategies to use while reading with their children at home.  The graduates received a certificate, prizes, food, and games with their children to celebrate their success.

For additional tips for engaging bilingual parents, check out How to Reach Out to Parents of ELLs or visit our Bilingual/ESL page.
Region 7 ESC Joseph Pino Region 7 ESC Bilingual ESL Parent Family Engagement
Joseph Pino is a Bilingual-ESL specialist at Region 7 and works with school leaders and teachers in the area of Parent, Family, and Community Engagement.  Prior to joining Region 7 ESC, Joseph served as a Director of Bilingual and ESL programs, Elementary Bilingual and Secondary Spanish teacher in Texas and Alaska, and Adjunct Instructor of Education for LeTourneau University. 
Constantino, S. (2021, January 28).  Family engagement.  Engage Every Family.  Retrieved March 30, 2023, from 
de Galbert, P. (2019, February 18).  My favorite Nelson Mandela (mis)quote.  My Favorite Nelson Mandela (mis)quote.  Retrieved March 30, 2023, from