When the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition ran its first family engagement survey in 2015, the results surprised — and delighted — Peggy Kwok.
She manages after-school and summer learning programs for the Chinese Information and Service Center. Aside from the tutoring and reading interventions available for students, parents turn to the nonprofit to learn how they can advocate for their children in school.
“In our Chinese cultures, that’s a new thing,” Kwok said in a phone interview.
On that survey four years ago, Kwok noticed more than a quarter of the 639 completed responses were in Chinese — the single largest language group after English.
“I was really shocked, but it was a real delight ” she said of the turnout.
“Our families have common challenges because it seems like we don’t receive quality language access,” Kwok added. “Sometimes they receive the notices from school, but there’s no translation at all. That’s why they want their voices to be heard.”
Her community will have a second chance to make their voices heard in another round of family engagement surveys from the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition, a nonprofit group based in South Seattle that advocates for children of color.
Coalition Executive Director Erin Okuno said she hopes for a bigger sample size than in 2015 and especially wants to draw more families with students in middle and high school. The organization’s target for the survey is Southeast Seattle, but it’s open to Seattle public school families and students citywide.
“We want to run it again to see how things have changed,” Okuno said. “We learned a lot from doing it the first time, and now we can look at different measures of community wellness and well-being.”
In its first version, the 2015 survey asked families about how familiar and confident they were in supporting their children’s learning, campus culture, communication with teachers and school staff, relationships with principals and more. The updated version includes new questions about housing and financial stability, students with disabilities and how schools approach gender or sexual identity.
Ti’esh Harper, who has a 3-year-old daughter in preschool, helped design the new survey and said she looks forward to seeing how families from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds report different experiences in Seattle schools.
“The survey alone is not remarkable,” said Harper, operations manager and race and equity lead for City Year Seattle. “The overlay of demographics and experiences, that will tell the different narratives of what schools are getting really right and what they’re getting very wrong.”
“The survey,” she added, “is supposed to serve the folks who take it.”
The Southeast Seattle Education Coalition translated this year’s survey — available online at http://bit.ly/SESECFamilySurvey2019-ST — into Amharic, Chinese, Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese. (Paper copies are available by emailing requests to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Once the survey closes on Dec. 15, Okuno and her staff will spend several weeks sifting through the data and considering, with partner organizations, how the responses should inform specific policy changes and practices next year.
The 2015 results, for example, revealed how different communities prefer to communicate with their children’s schools: Nearly 80% of white, nonimmigrant and primarily English-speaking families chose email as their preferred method of contact.
But “families of color said they preferred in-person and telephone [communications] because that allows for deeper relationships to be formed,” Okuno said. “As the school district has moved toward a more technology base, that was a big finding.”
The survey also helped other agencies, including Kwok’s, advocate for their communities.
Previously, Kwok said, parent-teacher conferences were limited to 20 minutes, regardless of time taken for interpretation for Chinese families. But now, at Beacon Hill, Lowell and Maple elementary schools, the teachers offer 10 to 15 more minutes.
Kwok also noted another finding from the 2015 survey: White, non-low-income families tend to hear more positive things about their students from school than other families.
“That’s why we seldom come to the school: language,” Kwok said. “We don’t have the opportunity to get more information about our students. … I don’t think (white families) try to dominate. It’s just the structure.”