Assessing Spanish-speaking immigrant parents’ perceptions of climate at a New Language Immersion School: A critical analysis using “Thinking with Theory”


  • David Aguayo University of Missouri
  • Lisa M. Dorner University of Missouri-Columbia



language immersion schooling, parent engagement, parent involvement policy, school climate, Thinking with Theory


Parent involvement in schools is often developed through one-way, deficit-oriented relationships, where information flows from schools to families and parents are perceived to lack some capacity or knowledge. However, little is known about the conditions facing Spanish-speaking families at Spanish language immersion schools, which presumably might employ fewer deficit perspectives due to the language and culture focus of their educational model. In turn, this study asked: How does school climate discourse shape Spanish-speaking parents’ abilities to engage at a Spanish immersion elementary school (SIES)? Do parents enact relational power at SIES, and if so, how? Data analysis centered on school climate surveys completed by 19 Spanish-speaking mothers. Framed by Ecologies of Parental Engagement (EPE) and Foucault’s concepts of power, the study ultimately examined not only parent perceptions, but also the research project and its own deficit-driven norms. Findings include: While parents reported trusting the school and teachers, many felt discouraged in SIES’s climate. Some blamed their level of involvement on their own (lack of) language or ability. Analyses also explore how the language immersion school and design of the research project—despite good intentions—were not bridging the gap between hegemonic English-speaking society and Spanish-speaking families. The discussion then considers the implications for school climate, parent engagement policies, and research at diverse multilingual schools.


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Author Biographies

David Aguayo, University of Missouri

David Aguayo is a doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri in the Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis Department. David’s research interests encompass community-school-university collaboration, with an emphasis on local educational policy-making and leadership. Concurrent with his doctoral work, David is co-founder and Assistant Director in a grassroots movement, Worley Street Roundtable ( aimed to create educational collaboration across families, schools, communities, and universities for the betterment of underserved children in Columbia, Missouri.

Lisa M. Dorner, University of Missouri-Columbia

Lisa M. Dorner, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis and a Faculty Fellow of the Cambio Center at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Her research centers on language policy and planning, educational policy implementation, and immigrant childhoods, especially children's and families' integration in "new" spaces. Her work with the community includes co-founding the Missouri Dual Language Network (




How to Cite

Aguayo, D., & Dorner, L. M. (2017). Assessing Spanish-speaking immigrant parents’ perceptions of climate at a New Language Immersion School: A critical analysis using “Thinking with Theory”. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 25, 112.