Takuya Motohashi, Silvia Garduno and Victor Nouis were playing with blocks and other toys while, in another part of the storefront office, their parents were learning to speak English.
Holding her stomach and grimacing in mock pain, teacher Eva Mannaberg asked the men and women to tell her what was wrong.
Tentatively, one person said, “You have a stomach ache.”
Then she asked a harder question: “But what does a child call it?”
“Tummy,” said Armelle Nouis, who comes from France. The others sitting at the table laughed.
This class in English as a second language was being taught to parents of Evanston schoolchildren in a storefront classroom in the Evanston Plaza shopping center, 1960 Dempster St.
In the Chicago metropolitan area, there are dozens of places where adults fluent in other tongues can learn to speak English.
But this class, a partnership of the Evanston elementary and high school districts, is different in several ways. The aim is not only to teach parents English but also to teach them child development skills, such as the importance of reading to their children and being a part of their activities.
The program’s ultimate goal is to involve the parents in their child’s education, said Carol Blackwell-Curry, coordinator of parent and community services for Evanston-Skokie School District 65.
If a parent does not understand English, he will not be able to help his child succeed in school.
And the free classes, which meet for two hours at 10 a.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays, provide free child care.
This is the only such program in the Chicago area and is based on one in Austin, Texas, according to Lyda Enriquez, District 65’s coordinator of English as a second language. Until last summer, Enriquez worked for the Illinois State Board of Education and concentrated on bilingual programs.
Nouis, who has been living in Evanston since August, tried to take English courses before. But with four children, including two at home, it was “too complicated.”
Her husband, a minister who is studying in Evanston, wasn’t always around to help.
“The child care helps me to come,” she said.
School administrators realized there was a need to reach adults not fluent in English because in the elementary district alone, some 350 children speaking 45 different languages are enrolled in bilingual education, Enriquez said.
The class began three weeks ago and has about 20 students whose languages include Spanish, Chinese and Japanese.
Mannaberg, who has taught English as a second language for nearly 20 years, wrote the lesson plans for the 18-week course with an emphasis on “survival skills” such as dealing with home and family emergencies and on child development.
And she tries to involve the children in the class. For now the boys and girls and their mothers are learning traditional games like patty-cake.
Takuya, 2, and his mother, Mitsuko Motohashi, who have been in America for just three months, joined in the game enthusiastically.
As the classes continue, the parents will learn to read stories to their children, Mannaberg said.
District 65, which rents the storefront that is used for many other programs for parents and children, provides the space and High School District 202 supplies the teacher.
The class will be reviewed and administrators will decide whether to offer more classes, including sessions at night.
For Silvia Garduno, the mother of five children, including one in Evanston Township High School and two preschoolers, including young Silvia, the classes are helping her reach her goal.
Speaking of her children, she said, “I’m trying to get more English so I can understand what they’re saying.”