By Danielle Nadler
Picture this: you’re a young mother with a toddler in tow, raising your kids in a country where you don’t understand the language or customs. You’re more than 3,000 miles from home and any semblance of support. You’re living below the poverty line and just found out you’re pregnant.
You’re feeling desperate and alone.
Your only connection to the local community is through your child’s school, and a unique program called “Padres como Socios Educativos,” or Parents as Educational Partners.
You go to the meeting, hoping to feel engaged as a parent. What you find is so much more.
This is the real story of a mother who came to a recent PEP meeting at Leesburg Elementary School. She is originally from Honduras and likely endured significant hardship to get here.
According to reports by the Migration Policy Institute, U.S. immigrants from Latin America experience significantly higher levels of poverty and lower median incomes compared to the overall foreign-born and native-born populations.
Limited English proficiency among immigrants is a barrier to employment and upward mobility, which exacerbates economic hardship. For working adults, especially parents, there can be precious few resources for introducing them to English, or integrating them further into the community.
In Loudoun County, this mother has a chance to build something better for her kids, thanks to the strength of the community, and the support of programs like PEP.
When Parents as Educational Partners was first conceived by the Loudoun Education Foundation, the objective was to get English Learner parents more aware and engaged with their kids’ education. The goal is to uplift, encourage and empower Loudoun County Public School families.
However, the impact of the program goes far beyond educational resources, as English Learner parents meet peers and share their experiences and resources.
As this particular mother shared her experience, she discovered she wasn’t alone. Other mothers gave hugs and advice, sharing resources that she could use. Most importantly, they gave the gift of hope, uplifting her and encouraging her to keep her baby.
She left that meeting feeling seen and supported as a parent. This wrap-around service is exactly what families need to fully benefit from their LCPS education.
During the 2022-23 school year, the Loudoun Education Foundation supported the expansion of PEP into 27 schools (up from 15 last year), including 13 elementary schools, 10 middle schools, and four high schools.
The PEP program hosts on average 10 meetings each school year, for two hours in the evening. Dinner is served while instructors educate family members and parents about LCPS, offering strategies for them to partner in their student’s education.
“Agradecido con todos usted por ayudar a nuestros niños gracias y muchas bendiciones,” one parent wrote on the feedback survey. “I am grateful for all of you, for helping our children. Thank you and many blessings.”
Funds from a Jack Kent Cooke Foundation grant, paired with additional donor dollars from the Loudoun Education Foundation, help provide a stipend for the instructors’ preparation time, as well as PEP supplies and meeting support, including:
meals to encourage family attendance;
childcare to help parents focus on the material.
“Me gusto toda la información que brindan los padres como aprender hacer mejor con nuestros hijos. Gracias por todo lo que comparte,” another parent survey reads in Spanish. “I liked all the information you provided for the parents and learned how to be better with our children. Thank you for all that you share.”
Parents as Educational Partners is open to any parent who wants to attend. This school year, an average of 375 families attend each meeting, engaging with their children’s schools in new and creative ways.
“PEP is an essential component of family engagement. I think we need to be at every school. I want to at least grow by 2-3 schools every year,” PEP Family and Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Ocampo said. “That’s my goal: to grow PEP so that every school has a program designed for families to partner in their children’s education.”
The impact is felt where it matters most.
“Agradecida con todos son una bendicion para mi familia, gracias PEP,” the Membreno Manueles parents said in Spanish. “We’re thankful for you all. You are a blessing to my family. Thank you, PEP.”
While most funding is provided through Title 1 and Title 3 federal grants to staff the program and pay the instructors (who already serve in full-time roles as teachers, counselors or parent liaisons), there remains a gap in funding. Additional donations would allow PEP to expand to more schools within Loudoun County.
If you would like to support the PEP program’s expansion into additional schools, please consider a donation to LEF today.
Danielle Nadler covered public education as a journalist for 15 years. Now working in the nonprofit realm, she continues to leverage the power of stories to bring about positive change. She serves as the Loudoun Education Foundation’s Executive Director. View more posts.