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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 9, 2006

Cultural transition takes work

By Ligaya Ricafrente

Parents and children who move to the United States from other countries often face language and cultural barriers as they transition into the American school system. Often these students have a hard time meeting the demands of their new surroundings.

On one hand, children must maintain the values and customs that they have been taught at home.

On the other hand, as students, they must deal with the pressures of fitting in with their peers and adapting to an American classroom environment.

Here are some tips to make the transition easier for you and your child.

  • Meet with your child's teacher. At the start of the school year, schedule a time to meet your child's teacher. If you need a translator for the meeting, the school should provide one. At the meeting, you can complete school forms, receive information on the curriculum and ask any questions you may have for the teacher. This is also a good opportunity to get to know your child's educator. He or she may help you better understand the school's expectations of you and your child.

  • Learn about the culture in American schools. The American school system is unique in many ways. Take some time to learn about national holidays and other festivities that are commonly celebrated at your child's school. Many schools give children a chance to dress up in costumes or bring in treats for holidays such as Halloween or Valentine's Day. Your awareness of these events will make the transition for your child easier and prevent them from feeling left out.

  • Offer to teach something new to your child's class. Teachers embrace the chance for students to learn about the history and traditions of other cultures. Due to your extensive knowledge of another culture, you can volunteer to teach your child's class something about your native customs. You can bring in an ethnic dish, give a music and/or dance lesson, or tell the class your childhood stories and legends. This will demonstrate to students that they should all be proud of and celebrate their unique heritage.

  • Stay active in your student's education. Maintaining open lines of communication with your child concerning his or her education is the best way to stay informed. When your student comes home from school, inquire about his or her homework. Although you may not always understand the content of your student's assignments, you can still remain involved in their studies. Look over your child's homework every night, even if just to make sure it is complete.

  • Speak your native language at home. Make an effort to speak your native language around the house as much as possible. Your student will naturally pick up English at school. Growing up fluent in multiple languages is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child. This will expand your student's ability to communicate with a wider range of people and open doors for him or her in the future.

    This column is provided through the Hawai'i State Teachers Association. Ligaya Ricafrente is an English as a second language teacher at Campbell High School.