Ways to help immigrant parents adapt to the US

As the United States becomes more demographically diverse, growing numbers of foreign-born families need help in adapting to American ways.

Those who work with social-service groups offer these suggestions to improve cultural orientation:

*Make English as a Second Language (ESL) classes more accessible to working parents. "Ninety-nine percent would like to be bilingual," says Mary Rymanowski, a social worker at Neighborhood House in St. Paul, Minn. But many immigrants work two jobs and are not available when ESL classes are held. Others can't afford them. Being able to speak English gives parents more authority in the family and greater independence outside the home. It also frees children from the role of interpreter.

"If you can't read even the communications from your child's school, you are at a real disadvantage," says Kathy Nelson of the University of Wisconsin Extension Service in Milwaukee.

*Help parents understand what American schools are like. Explain the school's expectations. Tell them how to enroll children in school and where they can go for help with children's homework.

"Kids sometimes are not doing their homework because they cannot find people to help them, even though they want to do it," says Ms. Rymanowski.

"Parents want to do whatever they can, but they don't know how to ask for help." Some schools are becoming aware of this, she says, but not enough of them to alleviate the problem.

*Make available a "cultural broker," someone who can explain American parenting customs and holidays. Thanksgiving, for example, is a new experience. Says Rymanowski, "Parents wonder: 'What is this turkey day?' 'Why do you do that?' "

*Hold workshops for parents and teenagers to explain the college-application process. "Parents don't know anything about that," says Beth Nolan of the International Institute of Boston. "They don't know how to help with an essay or a financial-aid application. There's no H&R Block for financial-aid forms."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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