Program Creates Unlikely Schoolmates

Kristen A. Williams, Ph.D.
UWRI helps successful program expand into more Rhode Island communities.


When a parent is involved in a child’s education, that child is twice as likely to succeed. This involvement takes many forms, including joining the PTO, attending parent teacher conferences, helping with homework, and volunteering in the classroom — but, how about attending school with them?

That is exactly what Providence-based nonprofit Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island (DIIRI) is doing, and with excellent results. For the one in five Rhode Islanders who speak English as their second language, taking an active role in their child’s education can be difficult. DIIRI’s Full-Service Community School model utilizes a two-generational approach to improving a child’s education by improving their parent’s ability to be involved. Participants attend the same school as their children, but study English literacy in a separate classroom.

Parental involvement in a child’s education is a vital part of academic success; this includes advocating for their child when problems arise. According to a study conducted by Oklahoma State University, non-English speaking parents are reluctant to address problems with the school, even though they care deeply about their child’s education. For these Rhode Island families, the language barrier is a very real obstacle — an obstacle DIIRI and United Way of Rhode Island are helping them navigate.

One of the program’s primary objectives is teaching parents how to effectively address issues with teachers, principles, landlords, and even elected officials. Helping parents advocate for themselves and their children builds the confidence needed to take a meaningful role in their children’s education. Dr. Kristen A. Williams, DIIRI’s Director of Adult Education, explains, “When parents recognize the connection between their own education and their child’s they become more empowered.”

Although successful, the program had been limited to the Providence area. United Way of Rhode Island changed that by providing a grant to help reach different populations around the state. “UWRI has been a game changer; they’ve allowed us to expand the program and build partnerships in other communities,” explains Dr. Williams, “we wouldn’t have been able to do that if it weren’t for their generosity.”

Investing in the future of Rhode Island means educating the children who call the Ocean State home. With families across the state speaking 85 different languages, it’s crucial to find effective ways to partner with parents and ensure students get the best education possible. UWRI will continue supporting organizations, such as DIIRI, that place an emphasis on literacy and finding innovative ways to improve childhood education.

By: Jason Boulay, UWRI Communications Coordinator