On building inclusive educational communities

Ze Min Xiao

Director, Center for Economic Opportunity and Belonging at the Economic Development Corporation of Utah

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How do we make sure that families have a seat at the table, and that their participation is not just a one-time thing? We call them ‘participatory architects.’ If we are building a house, we want to make sure that the people who live in the house have a say in how the house is designed.

Why don’t families participate in PTAs? Why are they not involved? A lot of it is fear. The fear of not being able to speak the language. The fear of being undocumented. Schools are the first trusted space of immigrant families. They’re a starting point to build relationships with others in the community and a space where individuals can be seen. Our education structure needs to find ways to serve the entire family, not just the students. First and foremost, schools need to make sure they build relationships with parents and create an environment where everyone feels like they belong.

A sense of belonging means feeling like you’re accepted, but also that you can contribute.”

How do we build a community that welcomes immigrants, but also where they can thrive and not just survive? A sense of belonging means feeling like you’re accepted, but also that you can contribute.

We do that by creating an environment of belonging. We need to change the mindset that immigrants are just foreigners. We need to put in place structures that fully maximize people’s potential. How can we help someone who had experience running a business in their home country start a business here? How can we help someone with language skills gain the knowledge to teach in schools?

We have one school that invites and pays a parent who speaks Spanish to come in and teach classes. That’s appreciating her assets and recognizing that what she brings is valuable to our children—and it makes her feel valued.

What I hope we learn from this pandemic is to appreciate people for who they are and recognize the strength they bring into their communities.

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