Zulma Barrera: What we need – A perspective from an immigrant parent

December 19, 2022

Zulma’s blog post was originally published by the D.C. Policy Center for their D.C. Voices publication. You can read the full article HERE.

My daughter was in kindergarten when I first noticed she was struggling in school.     

The work the teacher assigned was challenging for her, and her confidence level was low. When I reached out with questions, I was told that the learning difficulties I observed were “normal” for a bilingual child, and as an English language learner myself, I felt my voice was being ignored. 

In first grade, my daughter’s struggles grew even more apparent to me. She was having trouble with reading and completing homework on a daily basis. I contacted the school repeatedly asking for an evaluation, and still I got no response. My frustration grew. I could not understand why my daughter was being overlooked and why my calls were being ignored. I feared my daughter would continue to be left behind. 

I grew tired of being ignored, switched schools, and ultimately reached out to Advocates for Justice and Education (AJE) to support me in advocating for my child. By working with AJE, I was finally able to get my daughter evaluated. While of course I was happy to see movement, I was incredibly disappointed that critical years had been wasted. 

When my daughter finally got an IEP, she was 2 years behind grade level in reading and math. Because of these deficits she had to repeat 3rd grade. 

Seeing my daughter struggle, and feel like she was less than and “not smart” because she had not been receiving the support she deserved, broke my heart. 

As we entered the pandemic, virtual learning led to further declines. Although my daughter was receiving daily small group support with 6-7 classmates, the format was difficult. Her mind wandered and like most other children, it was hard for her to focus at home. 

Being stuck in the house, not socializing, and not mastering content taught over a computer, led to her developing anxiety. Most days she couldn’t even sleep through the night due to the fear she was falling behind yet again.

Since returning in-person, I have seen my daughter grow and improve. However our new challenge is lack of communication from the school. My husband and I are frustrated with the Zoom meetings and emails. We want in-person meetings and more open conversation. We want this so that our daughter is set up for the future she deserves, and so that we can support her in reaching her goals.

Through this experience I’ve learned that people assume immigrant families don’t care about the education of their children. This cannot be further from the truth. We absolutely care, in fact I spent years crying and concerned about my daughter’s progress. It is not lack of concern, but language that is a huge barrier. I am currently taking English classes at Briya, so that I can continue to be a voice for myself, and for parents who need support in advocating for their children. I’m also a PAVE (Parents Amplifying Voices in Education) Ward 5 PLE Board member, to learn about education policy and further develop my parent advocacy.

The system can be confusing and difficult to navigate. It can feel like barrier after barrier is put in your way.  I’m not a teacher, I’m not a therapist, I’m a mom. And as a mom I will always do whatever it takes to support my children.