Maria Diaz has a little green frog in her workbook that says “cool,” a gift from her daughter.

Maria Vega touched a computer for the first time and is learning to type.

And Lourdes Ruiz feels more comfortable at her children’s school.

All three mothers put their chores on hold for two hours a day to take literacy classes at the Merced Student Family Service Center. They are learning English, so they can help their children do the same.

“When I came here, I not any English,” Ruiz said haltingly. She sends three children to Chenoweth School in Merced. “Now I’m able to ask questions and talk to the teacher about the homework.”

It is all part of Proposition 227, the 1998 ballot measure best known for making English the language of instruction in California’s classrooms.

The initiative, passed by 61 percent of the voters, also requires the state to spend $50 million a year for 10 years to help immigrant parents learn English.

Classes are offered by school districts across the state. About 60 students a year enroll in the Community Based English Tutors program run by the Merced City Elementary School District.

The parents — mostly mothers from Mexico — spend an hour each day working with a teacher and two aides and another hour working on their own in a computer lab.

They get free babysitting and transportation, but only if they pledge to work with their children several hours each week.

The lessons often work in reverse.

“They correct me a lot,” said Diaz, who has three children at Chenoweth.
“Instead of me teaching them English, they teach me the language.”

Parents are dropped from the program if they do not attend regularly.

“You can’t learn the language in a couple of years coming in here and there,” said Paul Guevara, the district’s director of special projects.

Initial results from the 2-year-old program are promising.

So far, of 84 students who have enrolled, 54 are still in the program,
and 21 have moved to more classes offered in the evening.

Children whose parents are in the program test at the 27th percentile on the reading portion of the Stanford 9. The district’s other English learners test at the 20th percentile, Guevara said.

The Stanford 9 is a standardized exam for students in grades 2 through 11. A student who scores at the 50th percentile is considered average.

Meanwhile, the mothers are becoming more independent and the children are taking more interest in school.

When the homework is confusing, they help each other, said Vega, who has two children at Chenoweth.

“At first, when I came here, it was hard,” Vega said through an interpreter. “But now I’m used to it and I understand more. I participate more.”

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