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English Language Classes for Parents at 10th and Penn Elementary

The sun has been down for about 90 minutes on this cold winter day in downtown Reading, Pennsylvania. The students at 10th & Penn Elementary are at home taking care of their studies and enjoying some downtime before they return to school in the morning. But in the basement library of 10th & Penn Elementary, a different group of students is just settling in for class. Organized by Communities In Schools of Eastern PA site coordinator Martiza Vargas, this class will benefit the families of students in Reading. It’s a class that proves "#AllInForKids" means the same thing in any language.

The role of a CIS site coordinator is to be like a Swiss Army knife, ready to step in no matter the problem. If you walk into Maritza Vargas' office in the basement of 10th & Penn Elementary, you'll find bags of food ready to go, Tupperware bins full of attendance initiative prizes, circular tables where she meets with groups of students, and almost anything else that can help students get through the day. In addition to connecting with students during the day, Maritza's role as the site coordinator encompasses engaging the parents and families of her students with the school itself. When a parent survey revealed a need for English language classes, Maritza knew she could find the resources necessary to bring it to life.

Maritza is bilingual in English and Spanish, and understands that communication with parents and the school can be discouraging if a student struggles with academic and behavioral issues. When combined with a language barrier, being a proactive part of a student’s academic life can be a frustrating experience for parents.

After reviewing the parent survey results with the school administration, Maritza sprung into action to establish English language class that would help bridge the communication gap. She also ensured the class time and location was convenient for parents. That meant after work hours, in a place easily accessible for all. Through collaboration with school district administrators, Maritza secured the library at 10th & Penn for the evening classes.

Maritza also partnered with the Literacy Council of Reading-Berks and Reading Community College to provide funding and facilitate the evening classes at 10th & Penn. The courses run for 2.5 hours every Tuesday and Thursday from October 2022 to June 2023 and are designed to allow parents to prepare for the CASAS (Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment Systems) exam.

The first cohort of classes is designed specifically for Intermediate English, which works for ESL teacher Carl Kremer of Reading Community College. "Teaching the class forces me to learn more Spanish, so it's mutually beneficial," said Kremer. "My Spanish is actually right about in line with the student's English."

The parents acknowledge that learning a new language is sometimes difficult, but they want to do it for themselves and their kids. Julissa and Alexandra have students in the Reading School District and have found success learning English in the class. "We want to do it for our kids; we want to help them with their homework," said Julissa.

The class currently has ten parents actively participating. Maritza wants to expand participation with another cohort of parents in the coming months. "You can really see the growth with each of the participating parents," said Maritza. "It is exciting to help empower each parent to learn a new language so late in life."

A student’s academic success is directly affected by their parent’s involvement. By increasing accessibility to English language education for parents of the students we serve, CIS of Eastern PA is working to increase their understanding of their child’s studies so they can play a stronger role in their overall academic success.



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