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School not just for kids anymore

By: Eileen Wilson, Special to The Press-Tribune
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Sierra Gardens Elementary School in Roseville isn't just for kids anymore. At 5 p.m. when the children are long gone, parents make their way to room P2 ready to immerse themselves in an English tutoring program. English is a second language for 35 percent of Sierra Gardens' families, and these adult students are enthusiastic about learning. Designed as a two-year program developed by the Latino Family Literacy Project, classes at Sierra Gardens alternate between an English-as-a-second-language program and Latino Literacy Nights, which is the more creative component of the program. Classes, which began three years ago, utilize books printed in both English and Spanish to help parents learn. Students take turns reading aloud, and take books home to share with their families. They are also encouraged to discuss how their families responded to the book, and are taught computer skills as well. As part of the Latino Literacy Nights program, parents even get to create a scrapbook each week displaying information about the books they are reading. It's obvious students love their class. I like going to computer lab, said Yu Wen, an enthusiastic student, who especially enjoys singing songs about the months in the year. I like the books we get to take home and read, and singing our songs, Not only is this a place for students to learn, it is a place to bring together community as well. Latino Literacy is a wonderful program. It's a very comfortable setting “ kind of like a book club, said Wendy Phillipson, program instructor and reading specialist. Books are based on Spanish culture and are very high-interest with wonderful illustrations. Classes are offered at Sierra Gardens two nights a week, but for many parents, that's not enough. Students, eager for more instruction, seek out English-language classes offered at other district schools as well and some attend four or even five nights a week. Roseville Adult School instructors teach the Thursday night class, but Tuesday nights the class belongs to two dedicated Sierra Gardens staff members “ Phillipson and Sandra Manzo, an aide at the school. Both staff members volunteer their time, as do other teachers and staff who take turns babysitting children so parents can learn as much as possible. Manzo, a native of Guadalajara and a fluent Spanish speaker, knows how important a program like this is. I came from Mexico, I had the same barriers. Having a voice in the district is important, she said. This program opened the doors “ parents are no longer silent, said Vickie Raymond, Sierra Gardens' principal. When I first came here, there were barriers between English and Spanish speakers. I knew we needed to break that down. For Raymond, it wasn't only the divide between cultures, but the fact that Spanish-speaking parents didn't feel involved. Parents who have taken part in the program now have open communication with their children's teachers, and get involved with site council, art docent, and other leadership roles. They're also better able to communicate with the district regarding their families' needs. Families feel welcome here, Manzo said. They feel warm “ from teachers, principal, even the office secretary. Student and parent Salvador Bertran agrees. We come to learn and to be better in our life “ to help our kids in school, he said. Wanting to break down barriers goes both ways. English-learning parents don't want Spanish-only materials, but instead want bilingual books so they can learn as quickly as possible. School staff members attempt to communicate with the families in Spanish, and would love to learn the language in the future, a project that Manzo wants to facilitate when she has an opportunity. Manzo considers the program quite successful. With an average of 15 parents on any given night, many of them fathers, she is thrilled for them as they become empowered. The program isn't all hard work though. We have a party, Manzo said. Families bring food and we have a great time. Parents become good friends and have great networking opportunities. And students think the teachers are pretty great as well. We think the very best thing here is the teacher. She helps us to learn English better. We want to say thank you to my teachers for all their help, said Esther Duarte, who attends with her daughter, Claret.