Imagine being the parent of a high schooler, watching your child struggle to adapt, and even though the school is trying to communicate the issues, you can’t understand them because you don’t speak the language. Add to that navigating the Covid-19 pandemic, when language barriers mean you don’t fully understand the public health guidelines or how to get help. This stressful scenario is the lived experience of many Latinx parents in Marin and Sonoma County, and Side by Side has stepped in to help.
Embedded in middle and high schools in Petaluma and San Rafael, Side by Side’s early intervention and counseling programs saw that Spanish-speaking students “were having a hard time and their families were not being reached.” Working with English Learners Advisory Committee (ELAC) representatives in the schools, Side by Side designed a native language outreach and education program to help.
Why is it so important to involve families in this process? “We hear from youth that they feel their parents don’t understand what they are going through,” says Side by Side’s Sonoma/Napa Program Director Denisse Mendoza. “They feel alone in their struggle, and they want their parents to understand their experience.” When parents are engaged in and value education, they’re more likely to participate in their child’s schooling and be disciplined about schoolwork, both of which are of great benefit to the youth.
Petaluma High School assistant principal Erin Dinday is grateful. “Presenting to parents in their native language helps increase engagement and involvement. We wouldn’t have seen the same results last year without Side by Side’s support.”
Cultural barriers can also keep parents from getting engaged. “There is sometimes an ingrained belief that ‘the school knows best,’” says Mendoza. “So, informing these parents of their kids’ educational rights, and that it’s OK to ask questions and advocate is a big barrier to overcome.” Parents’ educational background also comes into play. If parents only have a 5th or 6th grade educational background, advocating for their high schooler can be intimidating, even without the challenge of a language barrier.
Side by Side’s workshops start with introductions to email and other basic technology to get everyone up to speed. Then the focus turns to mental health, overall wellness, and helping parents support their kids with in-person school requirements.
The organization’s “Communication and Boundaries with Your Teenager” workshop topic drew a lot of positive feedback. “These parents were raised in a different culture where they did not have these types of conversations,” says Mendoza. “It’s a different way of talking with your kid, so they need a guide.” One parent remarked, “It feels like I make the same mistake over and over again with my children. But what I heard is that I’m not alone because everyone has some kind of struggle with their child.”
Every day, Side by Side’s staff go the extra mile to support youth and their families in achieving a future with connection and meaning. For more information on Side by Side’s behavioral and mental health services offered throughout the Bay Area, visit their website.