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New school liaison engages parents

Rosa Leong, the Claremont Unified School District’s new Parent Involvement Liaison, knows she has a challenging job ahead of her.

Ms. Leong, who began her new job at the school district at the beginning of the year, is on a mission to transform parent involvement in Claremont schools while fostering community engagement.

“Primarily, my job will be focusing on our English language learners and those schools that have a higher population of foster youth and socioeconomically disadvantaged [youth],” Ms. Leong said. “So those are our targets. I was hired to work with those families.”

Ms. Leong will also be tasked with providing workshops and engaging parents who have a desire to get more involved with their students’ school through activities such as serving on committees, volunteering and translating information for Spanish-speaking families.

“When I say engage parents, it’s not just ‘Hey, come to our meeting and we’re just hoping to throw a bunch of information,’” Ms. Leong said. “But how can we collaborate? How can we make you part of the process?”

Based on her background, Ms. Leong is qualified for the undertaking. She spent nine years at the Rowland Unified School District working with parents. Her work in Rowland Heights was on a much more grassroots level—she would regularly visit homes of children who struggling academically or socially in the school setting.

Ms. Leong likened the job to social work.

“I've seen a lot and I've done a lot of home visits—it's been pretty intense and draining at times,” she added. “But I think it's prepared me to be at a district level. I'm working with parents and I know what to look for. I'm an immigrant, and so I can really relate to a lot of the cultural barriers that these families have that we had while growing up.”

One of the endeavors Ms. Leong was involved with at Rowland is the “parents as teachers” program, which, as the label states, places parents as the child’s first teacher and instructs them on what milestones and developmental achievements to look for in the first five years.

“We did a lot of parenting workshops. We found that with the programs that targeted children at that young of an age, the parents tended to be more involved when their kids went to school, because they’re more comfortable in an educational setting,” Ms. Leong said.

Ms. Leong also worked at a district that placed an emphasis on college education at an early age. Students from elementary schools all over Rowland Heights were encouraged to wear sweaters from their favorite colleges, and to have teachers hang college banners in classrooms. This, Ms. Leong explains, plants the idea of college as an achievable goal at a very young age—an idea that is right at home in a college town like Claremont.

Ms. Leong’s expertise in bridging the gap between cultures comes from her own life experiences. Born in Mexico, she arrived with her family to the United States at a very young age and grew up in a bilingual household, often serving as a translator for her mother throughout her childhood.

Ms. Leong’s background gives her insight to her work, especially since Claremont schools have a healthy population of English learner students and parents. She aims to provide necessary interventions to help English learners in Claremont maintain the expectation that they will catch up and thrive.

After first working as an insurance agent to support her four kids, Ms. Leong was drawn in to education on the advice of a principal at one of her children’s schools.

“I worked, but I was always volunteering because it was important to me,” Ms. Leong said. “And our principal said, ‘You would be very good at this position. I think you should really apply. It’s part time, you get to be with the kids and you’re at the school all the time anyway.’ It was a community assistant—that was my title back then—and I said okay. So that’s how I started.”

She instilled a desire for college within her own children. Her oldest son is set to graduate from Swarthmore College with a degree in mathematics, and plans to pursue his PhD afterward. Ms. Leong is on the road to getting a bachelor’s degree herself after years of helping other children succeed.

“I don’t know if at 18 or 19 I would have appreciated going to school or being passionate about something as I am now,” she said. “So I hope to get my bachelor’s in sociology within two years.”

One of Ms. Leong’s challenges as Claremont USD’s new Parent Involvement Liaison is to level the playing field when it comes to parents getting involved in their children’s education. Some schools have larger parental representation than others, and Ms. Leong wants to work with the others schools to increase parent involvement and improve communication between the district and parents.

“Some schools have workshops, other schools don’t have it,” Ms. Leong said. “So how can we support the schools that don’t have it? What do they need from us?”

She also wants a larger collective of parents involved, not just the same faces. Engaging them from a district level, she says, will hopefully increase the amount of people involved and decrease the amount of “double-dipping” on committees.

Claremont Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Myrlene Pierre told the COURIER that Ms. Leong’s job was borne out of a desire to bridge the gap between parents and the district. 

“Parents really want to be more involved in school,” she said. “Not just receive information, but they really want to have dialogue. We’re just really pleased to have her,” Ms. Pierre added.

Ms. Leong will spearhead a parent workshop at Sumner Elementary that will start on March 23 and will run through June 1. The Spanish-language class will be every Wednesday at 8:30 a.m., and English-language classes will be every Wednesday from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com