Teachers give backpack, familiar face
By CELESTE GRACEY
Renton Reporter Staff Writer
September 3, 2009 · Updated 3:51 PM
Bicycles lay scattered under apartment foundation, while a diverse group of children played nearby, some speaking different languages.
It was a hot summer afternoon when Tiffany Park Elementary teachers visited the new kindergartners who lived in a predominately immigrant neighborhood.
"We just love these visits," said reading teacher Pat Twiss, carrying a backpack she would soon give to a child from Moldova.
Less than a week before the school year started, Tiffany Park Elementary teachers volunteered time to calm fears of parents and answer questions. It's a simple and unique outreach that improves the outlook for many students.
Though known for a high number of immigrants, Tiffany Park was the only school in the Renton School District that made Adequate Yearly Progress, a federal standard most schools in the area typically fail to meet.
Much of the success is attributed teachers reaching out to the immigrant community, where some new students don't even speak English, said Principal Irene Olson, who has set the school's tone toward immigrant families.
"I've seen that there is a definite connection between student, teacher and parent," she said.
The teacher visits don't just give the children a familiar face, but they also build a connection between parents and school staff.
"Parent involvement in our school leads children to academic success," Twiss said.
Olson understood the challenges of immigrating at a young age. When she was 6-years-old, her family moved from Latvia, escaping communism after World War II.
"In the days when I came, there wasn't any support for refugees," she said. "There were a couple of teachers in that elementary school were really supportive."
She moved in August, and in September she entered the first grade, not knowing English.
"Along the way I learned English, but it was a tough beginning," she said. "That's why I love being here, because we have so many immigrant families."
Most of the immigrants are from Eastern Europe and Africa and come to the United States from countries plagued with genocide and poverty.
The tidy apartments smell of ethnic foods. A Russian grandmother breaks open a box of hazelnut bonbons and starts a pot of coffee, though the teachers couldn't stay for long.
Older children interpret for some parents, demonstrating their proficiency in multiple languages.
Some kindergartners shook their backpacks with joy, pulling out rulers and pencils, while parents encouraged others to step forward and greet the teachers.
The 25 backpacks came from the Communities in Schools of Renton Family Liaison program. Teachers also passed out pencil boxes, visiting 47 students in all.
"While we give the supplies, that's only half of the reason we go," Olson said. "The important part was the relationship building ... answering questions, calming anxiety and giving a familiar face to the parents and the children."Contact Renton Reporter Staff Writer Celeste Gracey at email@example.com or 425-255-3484, ext. 5052.