Twin Rivers hopes to school families with Parent University

By Brooke Purves

With 49 different languages spoken in students’ homes, the Twin Rivers Unified School District faces a perennial challenge in communicating with families. Earlier this year, the district appointed Yolanda Mayoral Falkenberg to the newly created position of family and community involvement coordinator to address that and other difficulties.

Historically, language resources in the district have been all but inaccessible. Most resources are available in only three non-English languages—Spanish, Russian and Hmong—and requests for translation services require a wait of up to two weeks.

Falkenberg promised to “work on a solution,” she said via email. “I would hate to exclude folks from fully engaging due to a language barrier.”

Full family engagement is what the district is after with this fall’s launch of Parent University. In conjunction with various community organizations, parents will be able to take classes about topics like conflict resolution, cultural awareness and ways to promote positive change in their own neighborhoods.

Trustee Bob Bastian said that “four different educational cultures” collided when four area districts consolidated into TRUSD in 2008, and that the new board needed to “send a message that we are really sincere that we want to reach out to the community.”

Parent University, which will initially be tailored to meet the needs of 10 campuses, will also integrate into its classes tools for strengthening the family unit.

“All the research on parental involvement and engagement shows that the parent is instrumental in the child’s success,” Falkenberg said, adding that the district will work to help families access Common Core State Standards, even if the parents don’t have solid academic backgrounds themselves. One of every five TRUSD parents lacks a high-school diploma.

TRUSD has been riddled with legal and financial problems from its inception, but Falkenberg said she wants to “look at the past as a learning experience.”

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