Latino Family Literacy Project
¡Para sus hijos!
District 15's Latino Family Literacy Project helps parents emphasize reading's importance
Earlier in the fall of 2012, a group of Latino students' parents—some with their children in tow—showed up after hours at several District 15 schools. They weren't there for an extracurricular activity or for disciplinary reasons. They were there to learn. They were there to participate in the District's new Latino Family Literacy Project.
"They wanted to learn how to help support their children in literacy," said Dr. Cheryl Wolfel, District 15's director of second language programs. "They wanted to know how to support their children in becoming better readers. They wanted to know how to motivate their children to read more."
Latino parents have enthusiastically embraced the District's new initiative, which is designed to encourage them to support their children in literacy through dialogue and reflection. Offered at nine of the District's elementary bilingual sites and at Carl Sandburg, Walter R. Sundling, and Winston Campus Junior Highs, the project's aim is to increase Latino parents' involvement in their kids' education by providing them the literacy training they need to nurture a love of reading within their children.
Throughout the 6- to 10-week program, parents meet once a week for two hours with teachers and administrators who've been specially trained to deliver the program, which emphasizes critical reflection and discussion while promoting family reading and writing. During each meeting, parents receive a new bilingual book written for their child's age group—either at the preschool, elementary, or junior high level—and teachers read through that book with them, pointing out ways to emphasize the book's themes and to ask their children questions that will not only help them understand what they've read, but also motivate them to read more.
"The books that are in the program have pictures in them, so one thing that we've done is let the parents know that it is OK if they can't read the book because we'll teach them how to read the pictures and how to identify and discuss their themes with their children," noted Dr. Wolfel.
"Additionally, the books are about things that kids really deal with—things that we might not like that they deal with, but we know that they deal with, regardless," she added. "That helps parents start conversations and open up avenues of discussion about topics that can sometimes be difficult for families to just bring up out of the blue."
For instance, Graciela's Dream, a junior high level book read in the program, is about a little girl and her dream of going to college.
"That is a great topic for parents to talk about with their children," said Dr. Wolfel. "They can begin to ask them what they think their futures look like and what their plans are for their lives. So we're also able to use this sort of literacy instruction to help them have those kinds of meaningful family conversations, which is just wonderful."
After each workshop, parents take home the books to practice these strategies and create more dialogue with their children. Then they report the results at the next week's meeting, where they swap out their old books for new ones and learn new literacy lessons to incorporate into their family reading routines. Throughout the program, parents and their children even document the experience by using a disposable camera to create a family album featuring photos that capture the fun they've had and the lessons they've learned after reading books together.
"What we know is that many of our Latino parents have never had access to a literacy program designed specifically for the Latino family," said Dr. Wolfel. "So what we're trying to do is encourage them to help their children make the most of these opportunities by stressing the importance of reading books and reflecting upon them and discussing them together, as a family."
Donielle Escalante, a bilingual resource teacher at Lincoln School, said this is why the District's launch of the Latino Family Literacy Project is so important.
"It has made our Latino parents feel like they are a part of something important and valuable while also encouraging both students and parents to love reading in English and Spanish," said Mrs. Escalante.
Her colleague, Sharon Moore, a reading specialist at Lincoln, agreed, saying the project has made Latino parents feel like a valued part of their school's community.
"Their children are seeing that their parents value education and are willing to come to school at night to learn something new and spread that knowledge through books and quality family discussions," said Mrs. Moore.
But the impact of the program is perhaps best expressed by the parents who participated in the project themselves. For instance, Margarito Rios, whose daughter, Leslie, is a third grader at Virginia Lake School, loved how the project provided them an opportunity to get to know each other better simply by reading together.
"I discovered so much about my daughter," said Mr. Rios. "I was surprised at some of her answers. We read and discussed the book and learned about each other. We had the opportunity to learn more about our traditions and culture."
Meanwhile, Enrique Segura, whose son, Sebastian, is a kindergartner at Virginia Lake, said the project helped his family go from not reading at home to having reading become a nightly family activity, and having the staff recognize his family whenever it visited the library.
"At home, our whole family changed," said Mr. Segura. "Before starting this program, we weren't really that interested in reading ... We now read every night for about 30 minutes. This was a nice experience because it improved our reading experience at home 100 percent."