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eLearning Blog: Easing the Stress of Older Siblings

on Thursday, 30 April 2020.

By: Clare Roach, Itzxul Moreno, Jennifer Dees, and Katy Lichon

Easing the Stress of eLearning

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Educators are navigating unprecedented challenges, and the ENL team has heard from many of you who have questions about English learners and remote learning. We are responding to these concerns each week with strategies and suggestions.

We’ve addressed many topics in past posts, including navigating communication, the digital divide, delivering clear directions, inserting language supports, and providing opportunities for ELs to practice speaking in eLearning. This post was written in response to a thoughtful question we received from an associate superintendent in Michigan.

Challenge: My biggest worry right now is that older siblings are the ones who are checking parent emails for the younger sibling's work and also trying to teach younger siblings while staying up on their own assignments. How might I best support these older siblings and perhaps ease their stress?

ENL teachers are all too aware that children in multilingual families, especially older siblings, often serve as human bridges. Translating and interpreting for older generations is a burden we have witnessed our students carefully and sometimes painfully shoulder when times seemed relatively normal. But now, amidst the unfamiliarity, unpredictability, and stress of school closings and health crises, we’ve seen older siblings take on altogether new levels of responsibility. We have no easy solutions to offer, but we put our heads together to offer you ideas to consider.

Avoid Student Translation

There is little doubt we are operating in less than ideal circumstances that call for emergency measures. So, it might be a good time to create awareness among colleagues that, for as convenient as it may be to rely on students or siblings to translate right now, we should always go to great lengths to avoid putting children in that situation. As a reminder, the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education jointly caution schools that they “may not rely on or ask students, siblings, friends, or untrained school staff to translate or interpret for parents.” We need to find adults and resources other than our students to help with translation. Remember to try and send home emails, newsletters, and updates already translated. Review some of the translation resources we’ve spotlighted in earlier posts.

Create Sibling Conference Teams

With their K-8 structure and layered parish and school communities, Catholic grade schools are particularly adept at understanding and interacting with students as members of family units. Leverage this strength by creating opportunities for teachers of siblings to put their heads together to develop a team response for families on the margin. Often the teacher of one vulnerable child has learned something that can greatly benefit the teachers of the rest of the siblings. This could definitely extend to siblings in high school if the older children are in Catholic high schools. Sometimes teachers in high school are unaware of the extra load older siblings carry within their families. Ultimately, teachers can work together as a team to find creative solutions to support the entire family through eLearning.

Acknowledge Siblings' Efforts and Gifts

Translating and interpreting for parents is not new for most ELs, but coronavirus, eLearning, and social distancing most definitely are. Under such trying circumstances, one of the best ways to support siblings might be to intentionally recognize all the tremendous ways they are a gift to their families and what a superpower it is to be multilingual. Taking a moment to write a personal note and put it in the mail, or writing an email or text can go a long way in helping to lift up our students.

As an example and to close, here’s a sample message our team wants all our amazing ELs to hear right now:

Dear <student>,

I know you are doing so much right now to help your family, especially your younger siblings. It can’t be easy, so know that I’m holding you in my heart and praying for you. I also want you to know how much I admire you! Taking the time to help your younger siblings learn at home and helping your parents with English translation shows your sharp mind, giving heart, and amazing language skills. I am so proud to know you and have you as a student. You are the light of Christ shining bright for me!  

Fondly,
 <your name>

If you want to learn more about these and other strategies, consider becoming an ENL Hernandez Fellow this year. We need more teacher-leaders equipped to advocate for the success of English learners in Catholic schools! If you are interested in applying or if you would like to submit a question for us to answer on this blog, please email Clare Roach at .

Blessings,
The ENL Team
Clare, Itzxul, Jenny, and Katy

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