English program teaches parents ABC's of school

SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - School requires a lot of work. There are papers to turn in, teachers to talk to and activities to attend - and that's just for the parents.

Now imagine that you speak a limited amount of English. Suddenly a parent's task of shepherding a child through the school system can seem downright daunting.

In an effort to help parents better understand what their children are doing in school, the Eastside Literacy Council created a series of classes that teach English skills. The first classes took place this spring at Cherry Valley Elementary in the Riverview School District, and North Bend Elementary in the Snoqualmie Valley School District.

A second series of classes begins this month and Eastside Literacy, which became part of Hopelink this year, has expanded the program with more advanced classes.

The program is funded through a Discuren Grant, which seeks to help non-native English-speaking parents communicate better with administrators and teachers, as well as make them feel more comfortable in areas such as checking school work.

Last spring, parents attended an eight-week course of classes, during which they learned to fill out different forms required by school districts, held mock parent-teacher conferences and went over their children's homework.

"One of the first things we did was tour the school," said Kati Boehm, the Snoqualmie Valley English as a second language coordinator for Eastside Literacy. "We went in the rooms the children learn in. They got to show their school off."

To aid them in understanding the paperwork children often bring home from school, a translator rewrote school forms into Spanish. Parents pretended to call their schools' attendance offices to tell them their child was sick. Boehm used flash cards to identify classroom items such as computers.

"We practiced writing notes to teachers and signing forms, like field-trip forms," Boehm said.

One thing that helped the program attract parents was providing child care. Because of it, she said, both mothers and fathers were able to attend.

Abraham and Gudelia Ponce-Espinoza were one of those couples. They have three daughters, two at Mount Si High School and one in Snoqualmie Middle School. The family - Abraham works for a paving company and Gudelia is an employee of the Salish Lodge and Spa - has lived in North Bend for the past five years.

Gudelia said she learned of the program through a flyer displayed at the King County Library in North Bend. She said the classes helped her communicate with her youngest daughter's teacher at a parent-teacher conference.

"When I went to the conference, my daughter was with me. I listened and listened to what the teacher told me. All the teacher told me, I understood," she said.

The couple's youngest daughter, Julissa, age 12, said she was glad her parents attended the classes, "So they can have instead of me telling the teachers what they say, they can tell the teachers themselves."

This fall, Abraham and Gudelia plan to attend Eastside Literacy's more advanced English classes, which, like the beginning-level classes, will be held again at North Bend and Cherry Valley elementary schools and Tolt Middle School.

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