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Published March 7, 2023


GSE researcher examines challenges of family-school liaison at bilingual school

Portrait of Jasmine Alvarado.

Jasmine Alvarado, PhD, assistant professor of educational leadership and policy

A University at Buffalo Graduate School of Education researcher recently published a journal article focused on the unique challenges a family-school liaison in the Northeast U.S. faced while attempting to cultivate deeper relationships between a bilingual elementary program and the families the school served.

“A Family-School Liaison’s Negotiation of Racialized Scripts for Family Engagement” was published in the Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership in December 2022. Jasmine Alvarado, PhD, assistant professor of educational leadership and policy, authored the article.

The publication presents a case study that depicts a family-school liaison’s challenging professional experiences as she took on multiple roles and responsibilities while lacking the necessary support and resources from the school community and surrounding neighborhood to meaningfully engage with students’ racially minoritized families. Alvarado examines this case through the lens of racialized scripts—the norms and routines with racial signification, which aid in determining the distribution of legal, social and material rights.

The article reports that the challenges faced by the family-school liaison were manifestations of long-standing structures of institution, thought and relationality that aim to uphold white supremacy.

By highlighting the issues of race, class and power that the family-school liaison experienced, Alvarado allows readers—including students and educational leaders—to understand how schools are racialized institutions. In doing so, current and future educational leaders are better prepared to take informed approaches when examining and contesting racist practices, structures and ways of thought within family-school relations.

The publication is representative of Alvarado’s research interests, which focus on three interconnected domains: educational policies and practices of K-8 schools, multiliteracies of racially minoritized students and families, and the intersections between societal inequities, educational policies and the multiliteracies of racially minoritized families in K-8 schools.

“My research is usually connected to my personal experiences, always remembering how there were assumptions made about my own family not wanting to participate in school. The issue wasn’t them not wanting to participate; it was the institutional norms and practices that were very exclusionary of other histories and cultural practices,” she said. “It always troubled me, and it influenced me to have a research agenda that would shift the frame from blaming families from minoritized groups as the problem to wanting to understand: What are the processes, what are the assumptions, what are the norms that lead to a lot of families being positioned in deficit frames and being positioned as not caring about their children’s education?”

The article includes teaching notes and discussion questions that students, educators and leaders can use to reflect on the case study and unpack how their local schools’ norms, values and thought systems reflect racialization processes.

Alvarado hopes the publication is a catalyst for needed conversations between education leaders. “It’s important for leaders at multiple scales in our educational system to have check-ins with their staff, specifically in terms of family-school relations, to get feedback from them—and not only feedback—but also taking action on the feedback because creating a space for feedback is not enough,” she said.

In 2022, Alvarado also published a chapter in the book, “Innovative Curricular and Pedagogical Designs in Bilingual Teacher Education: Bridging the Distance with School Contexts.” Co-authored with Patrick Proctor, professor of education at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development, the chapter, “Cultivating Bilingual Education in Massachusetts: From Survival to Restoration,” explores how to effectively prepare teachers to work with families and teacher candidates in Massachusetts, where dual language education programs were banned from 2000 to 2017.

Alvarado aims to spark change in schools through her research by encouraging questions and discussion among education professionals that will lead to action and collective mobilization.

“We have to always keep revisiting how we structure schools, norms, policies, reforms and what knowledge is,” she said. “Are we prioritizing who’s getting excluded from that? Is that really aligned with the vision we see and how we want to create these educational communities? If not, how can we push against these dominant forms of knowledge that are constraining a vision for liberatory education that promotes self-determination?”

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