Find out which organizations have ties to your families and reach out to them to see if there are opportunities to work together or particular issues that it would be helpful to address together.

More Resources

Working with Community Organizations to Support ELL Students

Working with Community Organizations to Support ELL Students

Young girl playing a violin

When building a support network for ELLs, community organizations can play a valuable role and offer resources that schools may not have at their disposal. Learn how to get started with these tips!

When building a support network for English language learners (ELLs), community organizations can play a valuable role and offer resources that schools may not have at their disposal in order to work with ELLs and their families. While the community schools model is one way that these partnerships can grow and thrive, a school need not be an official community school to have effective partnerships.

Bridging the gap

Organizations that work on behalf of specific immigrant communities, for example, can play an important part in helping schools bridge language and cultural gaps by providing:

  • Interpreters: Many school districts struggle to find interpreters for school events or conferences and to translate important documents for parents, especially for languages that have a lower incidence in the district. Community organizations may be able to provide intepreters, print translations, or recommendations of other translation services.
  • Cultural liaisons: It is important for schools to be sensitive to the diverse cultural backgrounds and customs of all of its students; the customs of ELL students may be very diverse when it comes to religious observances, dietary restrictions, and social expectations. Community organizations with a cultural/national affiliation can provide invaluable insight to teachers, administrators, and staff by offering trainings and workshops that focus on providing information about a specific culture or country. This may be particularly valuable when a new immigrant community begins to grow in an area that has not previously been settled by members of this community.
  • Experts on historical and political background: When welcoming students from a new immigrant community to the school, it may be helpful to learn more about the historical and political background of that community, particularly if that background has shaped immigration or resettlement patterns. For example, when refugees are resettled in a new community, understanding the conflict that displaced those refugees may go a long way in determining how to provide necessary support. This is also an important step in understanding potential traumas or hardship students may be experiencing.

Services and support

The leaders and staff of community organizations may also have many ideas about how schools, businesses, and other groups can work together to support ELL students and their families by offering:

  • After-school tutoring
  • Student internships
  • Medical services
  • Social services
  • Clothing/food drives
  • ESL classes for adults
  • Continuing education programs
  • Immigration information
  • Citizenship classes
  • Information on disaster relief

Note: Many undocumented immigrant families may forego services to which they are entitled due to fear of immigration enforcement, including food stamps, disaster relief, and medical care. In addition, they may not be eligible for other kids of benefits due to their immigration status. Being aware of these challenges can help schools meet students' most immediate needs discretely.

Getting started

If you are unsure of how to start a collaboration with your local community organizations, that's ok! Start by calling some of the organizations in your area and scheduling informal conversations to brainstorm ideas on ways that you can support each other. You may be surprised at how quickly the ideas start coming to you!

For more information, see the hotlinks section of this article, which includes a list of organizations working on behalf of different immigrant communities around the country, as well as organizations focused on the community schools model.

Hot links

Coalition for Community Schools

The Coalition for Community Schools, housed at the Institute for Educational Leadership, is an alliance of national, state and local organizations in education K-16, youth development, community planning and development, family support, health and human services, government and philanthropy as well as national, state and local community school networks.

American Educator, Fall 2015: Community Schools Edition

This edition of the American Federation of Teachers' Fall 2015 publication focuses on community schools, how they work, and how partnerships help schools, students, and families.

Latin American Youth Center

The Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) is a multicultural community-based organization in the Washington, DC area that supports youth and their families in their determination to live, work, and study with dignity, hope, and joy. The LAYC Family of Organizations is a network of youth centers, schools and social enterprises with a shared commitment to helping youth become successful and happy young adults, with the skills they need to succeed educationally, professionally, and personally.

LSNA: A Model of Successful School-Community Partnership

The Logan Square Neighborhood Association is a nationally recognized model of successful collaboration between a community organization and public schools, creating a community-centered school that serves immigrant families.

Girls Inc.

Girls Inc. is a national nonprofit youth organization dedicated to inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold. With roots dating to 1864, Girls Inc. has provided vital educational programs to millions of American girls, particularly those in high-risk, underserved areas. Today, innovative programs help girls confront subtle societal messages about their value and potential, and prepare them to lead successful, independent, and fulfilling lives.

Massachusetts DOE Resources for Family and Community Involvement

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education offers resources for family literacy and community involvement, providing information about program design and links to other useful Web sites.

Partnership for After School Education

The Partnership for After School Education (PASE), a New York City-focused organization, promotes and supports quality afterschool programs for youth, particularly those from underserved communities, enabling them to identify and reach their full potential.

Californians Together

Californians Together is a statewide coalition of parents, teachers, education advocates and civil rights groups committed to securing equal access to quality education for all children, specifically underserved English Language Learners.



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Engaging ELL Families Through Community Partnerships

Guide for Engaging ELL Families: 20 Strategies for School Leaders

Engaging ELL Families Through Community Partnerships

How can schools develop strategic relationships with community partners? Which issues are best addressed through a community partnership? Learn more from the strategies below. These strategies appear in Engaging ELL Families: Twenty Strategies for School Leaders.

The following strategies offer tips for thinking creatively about how to work with community partners and identify the most effective partnerships for your school community.

Supporting immigrant families

For related ideas, see the following:

17. Build partnerships with the local community

Download PDF versions:

A. What you need to know

Community organizations are a valuable ally in engaging ELL families, whether it's by providing key services such as interpreters and medical care or educational opportunities such as GED, ESL, and citizenship classes.

These partnerships can benefit your family and your partners alike, and they may lead to great opportunities for your students as well!

B. Reflection

Have you built any relationships with organizations in the community? If so, what are the successes and challenges you've experienced? Which social services do your families need most?

C. Strategies

  • Consider offering local organizations free space in your school as a way to encourage them to bring their services closer to your families (Houk, 70).
  • Ask your families which organizations they think would make good partners for the school community and which issues are of concern to them.
  • Find out if your district has a community education department that might be able to support a partnership with a local organization.
  • Invite members from the community to inform parents about their services, such as a local librarian, a nurse, or a firefighter.

Note: When inviting guests from the community to the school, assure parents that identification will not be checked and explain that they do not need to show proof of legal residency to sign up for a library card.

D. Examples

  • Christine Pearsall from New York shares the following on the National Education Association's website: "Our school hosts monthly Latino Family meetings - hosted and conducted entirely in Spanish by Spanish-speaking staff. The turnout is incredible every time. We discuss issues of concern to the parents and community, as well as periodically bringing in outside speakers (i.e. reps. from the library, Census bureau, etc.)." She also recommends using students from local adult ESL programs as translators in these informal settings as "it helps them practice English, get extra credit for themselves" and support their fellow country people (Flannery,
  • Highland Elementary School in Montgomery County, Maryland was chosen as a Blue Ribbon turnaround school by the Maryland State Department of Education in 2008. Part of its success, according to school principal, was its increased inclusion of the families. According to The Washington Post, "The school positioned itself as the center of its community, offering weekend soccer tournaments, English and computer classes for parents, and an array of other community services, from housing assistance to mental health counseling (de Vise, 2008)."

Resources: Immigration topics

18. Get to know your neighbors

A. What you need to know

Changing demographics can lead to tensions in the local neighborhood. (Think Clint Eastwood's character in the movie Gran Torino.) You may find it very productive to build a stronger relationship with your school's local neighbors, for your sake and theirs as well!

B. Reflection

What is your school's relationship like with the local community? If your local demographics are changing, what is the community's response to that change? What are some of the needs of your local community? What are the social/emotional/health issues your students face that community agencies might be able to help with?

C. Strategies

  • Look for ways that students can contribute to their neighbors (especially those who have young children or the elderly) by doing neighborhood clean-ups and volunteer work.
  • Inform local neighbors about the opportunity to tutor, volunteer, or donate used goods to the school and ELL families.
  • Look for places where interests and activities overlap. Consider posting a community board where everyone can post what they need or can offer.
  • Look for fundraising opportunities, such as a local yard sale that raises money for a new parent center.
  • Tell the community about the challenges your ELL families are facing. For example, if you have a new group of refugees arriving, collaborate with their placement agency to collect household items, furniture, and winter clothing.

D. Examples

  • When the Extreme MakeoverTM show came to Buffalo, NY, the students at Kevin Eberle's school took on an "extreme" neighborhood clean-up and food drive, raking leaves for the neighbors and collecting a record-breaking 85 tons of food. Their efforts did far more to change the attitude that local residents had about the school than any meeting could have done, and they attracted great publicity for the school's students.
  • Following the 2010 Haitian earthquake, the phones at Evans High in Orlando, FL began ringing off the hook and the office was filled with visitors as concerned neighbors asked how they could help the school's more than 600+ Haitian students and families.

Video: How we partner with our neighborhood association



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Partnering with Immigrant Families During COVID-19: Lessons Learned from a Community School

Partnering with Immigrant Families During COVID-19: Lessons Learned from a Community School

Principal Mark Gaither holding teddy bear

Learn how a community school in Baltimore, Maryland is tackling the challenges of COVID-19 head on through effective partnerships, communication, and problem-solving.


Wolfe Street Academy is a community school in Baltimore, Maryland whose students are predominantly English learners. Nearly all of the students come from low-income households, and a number of families at the school speak Mixtec, an indigenous language from Mexico.

As a community school, Wolfe Street has developed strong partnerships with families and community partners alike over many years. Those partnerships have provided a lifeline during COVID-19, helping families stay up to date on information coming from the school and giving them access to vital resources, support, and services during this crisis.

We asked Wolfe Street to share some of their lessons learned so far, including things that have worked and things that didn't. Highlights follow from Leah Beachley, Wolfe Street's After-School Director. Ms. Beachley, who is trained as a social worker, served as the Community School Coordinator during the spring and played a critical role in communicating with families.


Building relationships based on trust

Strong family partnerships are a cornerstone of the Wolfe Street community. Before COVID-19, the school held a daily morning meeting in the school's small cafeteria. Numerous families packed into the room and lined the walls before the start of school each morning, as Principal Gaither and a bilingual parent liaison led the meeting.

In addition, the school has worked closely with community partners for a number of years to offer services and support around food security, medical and dental care, mental health, and immigration issues. The school has earned high levels of trust from its families, including those who are undocumented.

Economic stress and food security

Those strong relationships have paid off during the pandemic. For example, when some undocumented parents who worked in Baltimore restaurants were let go, they turned to Wolfe Street.

Ms. Beachley worked with the families to help them fill out applications for food benefits and look for other sources of economic relief to help pay bills. While some of these families (both documented and undocumented) had been reluctant to apply for food benefits due to recent immigration policy changes around the public charge rule, the need for that assistance became too great when they lost their jobs.

The school's local community group, the Upper Fells Point Improvement Association, also collected donations to ensure that families could continue receiving the weekly fresh produce they were receiving before COVID. What had been a school pick-up for 25 families became a delivery to 100 families in the neighborhood, organized with the help of volunteers.

Access to medical care

At the same time, COVID-19 has hit Baltimore's Latino community hard. In many places, immigrants have been reluctant to report symptoms or seek care out of fear of immigration enforcement and costs of medical care. At Wolfe Street, however, many families have had access to good medical care regardless of immigration status due to strong partnerships with Johns Hopkins University, among other health partners. (Another indication of their trust in the school was that when families first developed symptoms of COVID-19, they first called Ms. Beachley, who would immediately refer them to a COVID-19 hotline and remind them that she was unqualified to provide any medical advice.)

Communicating with families

Another key area that has made a difference during the pandemic is communication. Not only has communication been regularly going out in families' languages in multiple formats, but the schools knows:

  • how families prefer to communicate
  • who speaks what languages in each household
  • preferred times of day to be in touch.

For example, keeping in close touch with families has allowed the school to identify which members of the household speak both Mixtec and Spanish in order to facilitate communication. This strong communication also allows schools to tap into families' strong networks with each other. Ms. Beachley notes that many of the PTA officers are bilingual in Mixtec and Spanish, which has been a big support for Mixtec-speaking families.

The school also has learned that most families have cell phones and prefer to communicate with their phones, as opposed to email. (According to Ms. Beachley, these are often prepaid phones, so phone numbers do change; this is why it’s critical to remind families to update their contact information regularly.) Many of the families text with WhatsApp or use Facebook Messenger. They also participate in a large number of texting groups among themselves.

Sending quick messages has also to be proven successful, whether by text, voice memo, or Facebook Messenger. Photos or brief videos have also worked well. And when there is an important announcement, she will use a screenshot of Principal Gaither to get their attention.

Ms. Beachley notes, "One great tool for communicating with families has been Facebook Messenger. I have created a 'professional' Facebook page associated with the school's Facebook page...It does not require a phone number, so I can still get in touch with families even if their pre-paid number changes. [And] I can send voice memos, use the 'voice call' function, and exchange screen shots for tech support."

Distance learning

When it comes to distance learning, the school has learned a number of lessons so far, including the following:

  • It's important for staff to understand how the combined pressures of the pandemic and heightened immigration enforcement have put a significant strain on families. This stress has made it difficult for them to support children's learning at home, especially if parents are working outside of the home or are quarantining in one room of the house for an extended period.
  • Sending screen shots with highlights or arrows (which can be added through "markup" features on smart phones) is a practical way to provide technology support for distance learning platforms. These kinds of visuals are especially helpful for families with low levels of literacy, including some of the families who speak Mixtec.
  • Making tutorials that are available in English and Spanish, such as these examples on the Wolfe Street website, has been a useful tool in supporting distance learning.

The school has also learned quite a bit about the challenges of expanding internet access. For example:

  • Families may live in residences whose address is not recognized by the internet company.
  • If multiple families are sharing a residence, the internet company may only allow one registration per address, leaving other families in the residence without an option of setting up their own connection.

Devices with data

One of the innovative solutions the school has tried is providing devices with data to improve digital access, made possible by a donation to the school. Ms. Beachley notes that this idea came from the PTA. According to Ms. Beachley, "The PTA officer team was pivotal in problem-solving around the issue of internet access. It was the PTA officers who suggested the idea of getting the tablets with data on them as a solution for the families who could not access Wifi due to barriers with registered housing. The PTA officers also helped navigate tech support with families."

The school piloted the devices idea during their summer tutoring program with 17 students. While they improved access, the school realized that training and tech support were also critical; technology alone would not increase access to learning.

According to Ms. Beachley, "Our biggest 'lesson learned' is that the support at home is more crucial than addressing barriers such as lack of access to the internet or devices. We thought the tablets would be a silver bullet and that with them, we were removing all the barriers that our families reported as reasons for their lack of engagement in online learning. However, we still had a couple of families who received the tablets with data and never participated in online tutoring."

Based on that experience, the school is planning to partner more closely with families this coming year in two key areas:

  • supporting at-home learning
  • tech training for online platforms.

Ms. Beachley says, "The social work team at Wolfe Street is going to spend time in August and during the school year developing and hosting parent sessions over Zoom that will provide training for how to use online platforms such as Google Classrooms, Clever, and Zoom.

"We will also host virtual discussions with parents about how to create a home environment that is conducive to learning...We realized that we spent so much time in the spring addressing barriers to learning that we forgot about our equal partnership with parents."

Social-emotional support

As the school prepares for the coming year, another key priority will be how to best serve the social-emotional needs of their students. According to Ms. Beachley, the social work team is planning to rotate through the online 'classrooms' to facilitate weekly community-building circles with the students and teachers.

"This school year, each class will have a daily class meeting via video call so that the students and staff have an opportunity to connect," she said. "We are hoping that this will provide a space for the students to discuss some of the challenges that might be coming up for them during the time that they are at home and to support one another."



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