2008-11-05 / Front Page

Schools teach English to parents

By Richard Foster

Lisa Billings/Chesterfield Observer Jorge Duenas and his fellow classmates study English during a class at Davis Elementary School. The school system is now offering English as a Second Language classes for students' parents at Crenshaw, Davis and Falling Creek elementary schools and Falling Creek Middle School to help them become more involved in their children's education.
A stay-at-home mom with kids in elementary school, Maria Del Socorro Coronado moved to Chesterfield County last year. Though it's been almost a decade since she immigrated to the United States, she's not proficient at English.

So she was pleased to learn Chesterfield County Public Schools (CCPS) is offering a 10-week pilot English as a Second Language (ESL) course designed to teach non- English speaking parents of public school students more about American schools, and help them become more involved in their child's education.

About 70 parents are enrolled in the pilot program, which is meeting in four classes at Crenshaw, Davis and Falling Creek elementary schools and Falling Creek Middle School. The majority of the parents are Hispanic, though there are also folks with Asian and Middle Eastern backgrounds as well.

"Many of them have lived in the country long enough that they've picked up bits and pieces" of English, says Lisa Thompson, one of the instructors for the pilot course.

And like Coronado, some of the parents have lived in the United States for an extended period of time without being proficient English speakers.

"It's amazing to me to find out how long they've been getting by with rudimentary English, if any," Thompson says.

In the pilot program, parents learn some helpful English phrases as well as basics such as how to inform the school if their child is ill or has a dental appointment. For example, Coronado has learned how to read the school calendar to know when her kids will be out of school for a holiday or a teacher workday. She also scheduled her first parent-teacher conference.

Coronado's classmate, Ana Leon del Gil, a native of El Salvador, immigrated about 10 years ago and has lived in Chesterfield for two years. She's taking the course to learn how to improve her pronunciation and to be able to help her eighth-grade son with his school work. She's learned how to read a report card and how to interpret the grading scale. She's also learned the names of school supplies her son needs.

ESL classes aren't new in Chesterfield. The school system's adult education department offers adult ESL courses and some local churches and community groups also teach them. However, this is the first time the school system has offered a class specifically for parents, aimed at bridging cultural gaps and increasing parental participation.

"Our research says that the more parents are involved in their children's education, the more success [children] will have in school," Terry Franson, CCPS' English for Speakers of Other Languages specialist, who brought the idea for the pilot program to the school system after attending a training session sponsored by the Virginia Department of Education.

The national No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 encourages school systems to provide training and assistance to parents of children in ESL programs, Franson says. Chesterfield's program is based on a national program, Parents as Educational Partners (PEP), which helps non-English-speaking parents become better educational advocates for their children. Enrollment in the pilot program has been so good that the school system already has another 10-week session planned to begin in January.

"Across the country, it's been very successful," Franson says, "and we're hoping it will receive the same kind of enthusiasm in Chesterfield County."

For more information about ESL classes, contact Lisa Thompson at 743-7542.

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