Parents Study English at Children's Schools

Education: Popularity of program rising at area schools; state funds $50 million a year

When students in Cerritos, Downey, Norwalk-La Mirada and Long Beach school districts return to school this fall, their fathers and mothers may follow them into class, as administrators focus on English language tutoring for parents.

Teaching basic English skills to parents of Limited English Proficient pupils is becoming increasingly popular, partly because it is now mandated — and funded — by state Proposition 227.

Prop. 227, enacted in June 1998, mandated that public schools end bilingual education programs, in which students with limited knowledge of English were taught in their native tongue while slowly learning their new language.
The law required sheltered English immersion, in which students are taught in English with some explanations in their primary language. It also provided $50 million a year for programs for adults who pledge to tutor in English.

Administrators say the best way to accomplish the task is by teaching parents and having them pass along the knowledge.

“I think it’s in the spirit of what was meant to be,” said Julie Meuret,
Downey ESL resource teacher. “If it’s for the community, that includes children. It gets parents involved with their children. We always say the child’s first teacher is the parent.”

With state funding, Long Beach Unified piloted a Community-Based English Tutoring program in March in seven elementary schools. Administrators at Downey Unified and Paramount Unified turned their eyes to Long Beach’s program, which has parents instruct children in class.

Over the summer, Downey Unified tested its own C-BET program at three elementary schools. Principals sent fliers home to parents before the 1998-1999 school year ended, touting the program, which is free and offers child care. Initial response was slow, but the word spread so quickly that by summer’s end, more than 100 parents — mostly mothers — were coming every day to learn English.

Enthusiastic parents

“These parents were so enthusiastic. They never missed a day,” said Adult School Principal Kathryn Gorman. “We were only going to run it for five weeks, but they begged for more so we ran it until the end of August.”

Starting Oct. 1, classes will be offered in Downey from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.
at Unsworth, Imperial and Rio Hondo elementaries. Classes at Ward and Gauldin elementaries will be offered after school, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.

Teaching assistants will baby-sit youngsters in one room while parents study English in another. They’ll be taught the alphabet, names of common objects,
and will play games where changing letters creates new words: Mat turns into cat, cat turns into sat.

After an hour of instruction, parents will share what they’ve learned with kindergarten and first grade students, tutoring the children for an hour.

“In teaching you learn twice, when you learn it and when you teach it, and it helps those adults. They’ve learned it and they’re reinforcing it by teaching it,” Meuret said.

In Downey Unified, parents won’t tutor their own children in class, but teaching parents English should enable them to help their children with homework, Gorman said.

Parents will be given checklists to complete and return, showing they have helped their children each night with school assignments. District officials will use the checklists to demonstrate the program’s success to state education officials.

As Downey Unified officials prepare to educate parents, Long Beach Unified instructors are expanding their program for the 1999-2000 school year. It will spread from seven to 21 elementary schools, according to school district spokesman Dick Van Der Laan.

Paramount Unified administrators are studying Long Beach’s program in hopes of establishing their own, according to Mike Smith, Paramount Adult School assistant principal, but it remains unclear when it might actually begin.

Administrators at Bellflower Unified School District could not be reached for comment.

ABC Unified’s community tutoring program will begin in September, said Eli Obillo, the district’s director of special projects and services.

The program will at first be offered in just four schools — Burbank and Willow elementaries, Faye Ross Middle School and Artesia High School. By next year, each school in the district will offer a program.

Computer education

At Burbank Elementary and Artesia High School, parents will not just learn English, but also how to operate a computer. The rationale behind this,
Obillo said, is that children have to use computers to do assignments, and parents need to know how software works so they can help their children.
Three schools in Norwalk-La Mirada Unified will offer community tutoring programs starting in October, said Frances Kusumoto, adult education director.

Foster Road and Johnston elementaries and Hargitt Middle School will have classes in the morning and afternoon. Classes will teach English and will include parenting tips, Kusumoto said.

Classes are free, and there will be a daycare facility so parents don’t have to get a baby sitter in order to attend class. District administrators in several cities say the new programs help everyone involved.

“The parents benefit, so do the kids, and as far as the school’s concerned you’re getting a whole new group of parents involved who may have been reluctant before” because they didn’t know the language, Van Der Laan said.

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