Building a Bridge to Reach the Whole Child


By Brenda Mendoza

Mendoza Building Bridge 300x300
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

—Lao Tzu

Our school year has commenced, and the flow of our routines has solidified. Students come into our classrooms facing many new challenges. Through it all, we always find a way to engage every student. In the middle of all our routines and lessons, though, there are still many bridges waiting to be crossed. The bridges we choose to create this year may have long lasting effects on the lives of our students. The bridge I encourage every teacher to create is the one that leads to the home.

Closing the Achievement Gap

In our school, we wanted to explore how we could transform our culture from one of limited family involvement to one of family empowerment. We wanted to promote the principles of the whole child approach by teaching our families the importance of health, safety, and creating a home learning environment that is engaging, supportive, and challenging. We found that through family literacy advocacy, we could close achievement gap within our community. Family literacy originated because of proposition 227, which eliminated native language acquisition in the classroom. Parents realized that after one year in a sheltered English classroom, their children made no literacy progress. They recognized that their children needed their involvement in native language literacy. Therefore, schools needed to implement a cooperative family literacy program in order to maintain native language literacy in the home (Freire & Macedo, 1987).

In 2010, a group of educators at Greenman Elementary School and I created a program called P.A.L. (Parents Advocating Literacy). We invited Greenman families to participate in our workshops. We surveyed families before P.A.L. started and found that only 20 percent of parents were reading at home with their children. The survey also showed that 95 percent of parents were unaware of how to best help their children at home. After the P.A.L. program was implemented, 98 percent of parents surveyed were using academic strategies and reading daily in their homes.

Getting Parents Involved

There are three approaches to parental involvement: home-based involvement, school-based involvement, and academic-socialization involvement. Academic-socialization involvement describes parents as learners who internalize the practice of academic strategies through participation. In this strategy, parents learn from educators the academic knowledge needed in order to effectively engage their children in learning (Hartlep & Ellis, 2010). The P.A.L. program created simplified literacy strategies for parents. These literacy strategies became known as P.A.S.S. (Parental Academic Socialization Strategies). The concept of the program was to generate a set of teaching and learning practices that parents could implement using the language and culture of the home (McCarty, 2004). As part of the program, we also invited parents to attend workshops at the school where we encouraged them to participate in the learning process by integrating Spanish literacy strategies at home. Our program, like many others across the nation, created a bilingual, bicultural bridge that bonded the home and the school. The benefits of this program were that the students showed substantial growth in their English proficiency scores, both parents and students were empowered in their literacy proficiency, and students became biliterate (Rodriguez-Valls, 2009).

Developing Authentic Relationships

At Greenman, we created an environment that engaged families in literacy strategies to unify our community. Our families began a journey that may eventually lead to the closing of our achievement gap. We have found a way to overcome our students’ challenges and engage our families. Our students’ literacy skills have begun to excel and we have created a culture of family empowerment. When parents are empowered, they become active lifelong participants in their children’s education. The bridge we chose to create was a genuine relationship between the educators in our school and the parents in the home. It takes a village to raise a whole child, and I encourage every educator to build the bridge that leads to the home.


Freire, P., & Macedo, D. (1987). Literacy: Reading the word and the world. New York: The

New Press.

McCarty, T. L. (2004). Dangerous difference: A critical-historical analysis of language education policies in the United States. In J.W. Tollefson & A. B. M. Tsui (Eds.), Medium of instruction policies: Which Agenda? Whose Agenda? New York: Routledge.

Rodriguez-Valls, F. (2009). Cooperative bi-literacy: Parents, students, and teachers read to transform. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 8(2), 114–136. Retrieved from


Brenda Mendoza is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2015 and ILASCD’s coleader of whole child advocacy. She is a K–12 bilingual ELL specialist in West Aurora School District 129 in Aurora, Ill.