Children benefit when parents learn English

Adults who know the language help students succeed

`My child, Jessica Sanchez, stay home March 10 and 11 becase she was sick.
Please give her the homework for those days. I apprecite it.”

Jessica’s mother is learning English. She’s also learning how to write a note to a teacher, and the importance of attendance and homework.

Proposition 227, passed in 1998, required that immigrant students be taught in English in most cases. It also provided money to help their parents and other adults learn English. Immigrants who sign up for CBET (Community Based English Tutors) must promise to use the training to help a student who’s learning English.

During the campaign, opponents of 227 said the idea was crazy: How could parents just learning English be turned into English tutors?

Of course, CBET isn’t creating school-based tutors. It’s doing something far more important: Teaching immigrant parents what U.S. schools want them to do at home to help their kids succeed. It’s creating “education parents.”

Is that worthwhile? You bet.

CBET gets $50 million annually for 10 years under 227. Gov. Gray Davis wants an additional $300 million to fund after-school, Saturday and vacation English instruction for immigrant parents and children.

“Our goal is to make them feel competent as teachers of their children,”
says Sandra Dilling, who coordinates East Side High School District’s program, which partners with Oak Grove Elementary.

“It’s a way to get parents involved with their children and with the school,” says Shirley Bell, who coordinates San Jose Unified’s CBET program, which works with Catholic Charities and InnVision.

Many working parents were discouraged by wait lists for adult English classes, or unable to handle classes that meet four nights a week. CBET is more accessible, and linked to what parents value most: their children.

Most local districts offer CBET two or three times a week at schools and community centers, sometimes with babysitting provided.

“Parents love the classes,” says Bell.

Those with younger children are taught how to read books aloud and talk about the story, play word games and practice writing. They pledge to take their children to the library.

Parents of high school students learn to set up a place for the student to do homework and a time to get it done, to help the student plan ahead for tests and projects. They’re taught about grades, report cards, graduation and college requirements and how to communicate with teachers and counselors.

East Side’s James Lick High has a CBET class made up of parents on the bilingual advisory council. All the council members decided they needed English fluency.

In East Side, CBET students take home books, activities, audio and video tapes to use with their children, and report back on how they’re working with their children.

Distance learning is popular for those who can’t make an evening class. They check out videos and books, keep an activities log and meet with a tutor once a week.

For absolute beginners, the first “Watch and Learn” video shows a picture of a book. “Book,” says the voice-over. “Book.”

It shows a piece of chalk. “Chalk,” says the voice. “Chalk.”

The most advanced video is “Crosswords Cafe,” a TV-style show featuring a multi-ethnic cast of characters using sophisticated English. “They watch it over and over again with the whole family till they get it,” says Dilling.

East Side’s center and Lincoln High in San Jose Unified also have computers with language-learning software. Both are training parents to use the computers, so they can check out a portable to use at home with their children.

At a class at Grail Community Center, in the mostly Latino Mayfair district,
Maria Davila listens to teacher Zenaida Ramirez Bosman preview a book called
“Mouse TV.”

Davila has lived in San Jose for 23 years. She doesn’t need much English in her neighborhood or in her cafeteria job. Her four children, who range from eight to 16, were taught in Spanish and English, and mostly speak Spanish.
But Davila thinks she could do more for her kids if she improved her English.

The teacher reads the book out loud. It’s about a family of mice who love TV but learn to amuse themselves when their set breaks down.

Bosman explains the vocabulary. One mouse likes comedy. “You know Cantinflas?” says the teacher.

About half of East Side’s students are from Vietnam or other Asian countries, but this class is all Mexican. They know Cantinflas.

Bosman reads the book again, with the class repeating the words. Then the students read to a partner.

Bosman tries to spark a discussion. “What would you do if your TV broke?”
she asks a woman.

The woman answers in Spanish, cracking up the class. Davila translates for me. “Turn it off.”

The CBET students will take “Mouse TV” home and read it with their family.
They’ll ask a child to draw a picture inspired by the story, and to write a few sentences about the picture.

Educated parents do this sort of thing routinely. Immigrant parents — even with minimal schooling and English — can do it too, if they know it matters.

It does.

Joanne Jacobs is a member of the Mercury News editorial board. Her column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. Write to her at 750 Ridder Park Dr., San Jose, CA 95190, or e-mail to .

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