When the bell rings at Morningside Elementary School in San Fernando, Elizabeth Reyes arrives at 2:40 p.m. sharp–not to pick up her third-grade daughter, but to attend class herself.
Since emigrating from Mexico 12 years ago, Reyes, 32, had never been in a hurry to learn English. Her husband discouraged her–and besides, her kids were small and the family only spoke Spanish in their San Fernando home.
But after the 1998 approval of Proposition 227 by California voters, all but ending bilingual education in California’s classrooms, Reyes’ daughter, Emma, became a member of the first group of California schoolchildren with limited English skills to learn in English only. And Reyes didn’t want to be left behind.
She is picking up the skills she needs to help her child as the result of a little-known section of Proposition 227 called Community Based English Tutoring, which created adult education programs. Twice a week, she buckles down to learn the idiom and idiosyncrasies, synonyms and syntax of the difficult-to-learn English language.
“I can help my daughter and son with their homework now,” she said in English. “Before, I didn’t understand what my daughter was saying to me. Now I understand more. My daughter speaks English only. So for her, it’s easy.”
District officials estimate there are 55,000 parents, aunts, uncles, neighbors and members of the community enrolled in the classes throughout the district.
The goal is “to raise the English level of the community,” said Dolores Diaz-Carrey, director of instructional services and adult and career education. “This program is taking off. Just as fast as we hire teachers, we are putting them into the program.”
The idea is simple: Encourage non-English-speaking parents, relatives living in the home and community members to keep pace with schoolchildren’s education well enough to become the students’ “tutors” at home. In exchange for the free classes, participants sign a weekly pledge of hours they will spend helping children with reading and other homework.
Statewide, the program is funded through 2007 with up to $ 50 million a year. LAUSD’s portion this year is $ 12 million, to be used for classes administered by 39 adult and occupational skills schools.
Currently, 750 such classes are held at elementary, middle and high schools in the LAUSD, which began offering them last spring. Eventually, district officials hope every school will be on board. For now, classes also are available at neighborhood locations, such as community parks and housing developments. “Wherever we can set up a class, we are,” Diaz-Carrey said.
Classes range in frequency from weekly to daily. Each is packed with reading, practicing casual conversation, learning vocabulary words and learning tutoring techniques that parents and other participants can use to help schoolchildren.
On a recent afternoon, nine parents, a grandmother and Reyes spent two and a half hours at Morningside Elementary School, learning words related to time frequency, such as “always,” “sometimes” and “never.”
“How often do you make your bed?” teacher Denise Dacles, 34, asked the class.
Dacles, who usually teaches special education at Morningside, hoped for a resounding, “I make my bed always.” But the response sounded more like jumbled cocktail-party conversation.
There was much work to do.
“English is so, so hard,” Dacles told the group. ” Your kids don’t give up, so you don’t either.”
When the adults stumbled over pronouncing the letters G and J, Dacles reassured them that they were not alone.
“It’s just like the kids,” she said. “Those two letters get them confused, too.”
Later, a handful of children were summoned from the program’s free day-care center in the school cafeteria, where they play educational games, have a snack and tackle homework. Sometimes the children join their parents in class to allow the adults to practice their tutoring skills.
At Morningside, fourth-grader Christopher Silvestre, 9, read along with his mother, Delia, from a book about “Mr. Egg.”
Delia Silvestre used her index finger to guide them over each word in the picture book. When she stumbled over the word “knees,” Christopher helped her out.
“Before, I had to do all the work or get help from my 10-year-old cousin,” Christopher said.
Another child in the group was equally proud.
“It feels good to know my mother is doing this to help me with my homework,” said fourth-grader Graciela Vasquez, 9.
Graciela’s mother, Cecilia Vasquez, emigrated from Mexico 12 years ago and has three other children under 8 years old.
“She took these classes because she wants to help us with our homework and read us books,” Graciela said.
Spelling, homework and writing are new activities that Norma Hernandez said she now enjoys with 8-year-old Leslie and 5-year-old Stephanie. Hernandez, of San Fernando, started the tutoring class five months ago.
“They are happy. Very happy,” she said of her daughters. “They say, ‘More English! More English, Mom!’ ”
For more information about CBET classes, call (213) 62-LEARN.