Informational meetings at Chautauqua provide assistance for Spanish-speaking parents

Seven Spanish-speaking parents gathered in a third-floor classroom at Chautauqua Elementary School one recent Thursday evening, chatting easily as they waited to hear presentations in Spanish about the school’s English Language Learning program and the U.S. Census.

One parent filled out her census questionnaire; others discussed how many native Spanish speakers live on Vashon Island.

It was the fifth weekly informational evening for Spanish-speaking parents at the elementary school, where special topics are discussed and dinner and child care are provided.

Put on by the school’s two Americorps volunteers, the weekly programs provide needed and appreciated outreach to a Spanish-speaking population that’s growing in Island schools, said Chautauqua Principal Kate Baehr.

The Vashon school district received the yearlong support of two Americorps volunteers, who are also a part of the Washington Reading Corps, in part because data showed a disparity in reading levels between native English-speaking children on Vashon and their native Spanish-speaking peers.

As part of their work on Vashon, the two Americorps members, one of whom is a native speaker of both Spanish and English, have worked hard to reach out to the Island’s Spanish-speaking families and children, Baehr said.

“This is really important outreach,” she said. “We’re trying to help meet the needs of our Latino families, because it’s so important for us to support all our families however we can.”

The events have drawn a good deal of interest from the Island’s Spanish-speaking families — about 20 parents turned out to the first information night in January, said Esteban Cisneros, one of two Americorps volunteers at Chautauqua this year.

“We’re offering information on educational support for their children — how to help their kids succeed at home and how to help them succeed at school,” he said. “We’re trying to create a welcoming environment, because we want them to be able to come to the school and be proud of their kids. We want to talk about their child’s success and their part in it.”

Parents at Thursday’s event said they appreciated having the opportunity to speak in Spanish about their children’s education.

Several of the parents in attendance spoke Spanish only; others understood English but preferred to speak in Spanish.

We’re here “to show our interest in the education of our children and how they’re doing in school,” a mother named Claudia said in Spanish.

“And to learn about ways to help our kids with school and with other issues,” added Lucina in Spanish.

When asked how many Islanders speak Spanish as their first language, Lucina and Claudia thought it over with three fathers who were at the family night, then estimated there are 250 Spanish speakers on Vashon — 40 or more of whom are students at Island public schools.

The Latino population on Vashon hails from several countries, including Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Argentina, El Salvador, Chile and the United States, said parents.

Sally Adam, a school district family advocate who works with Latino families on Vashon, said she thinks the family information evenings have been successful so far, in large part because “there’s a lot of motivation on parents’ part to do things that would be helpful to their kids’ success in school.”

“That’s really been the main focus of the meetings — to help kids be successful in school,” Adam said.

In the past on Vashon, resources have been stretched thin at the school district, leaving little time for staff to reach out to Spanish-speaking families with Spanish-language events, she said.

Families are appreciative of the nights and the information they provide, she added.

“It’s been really wonderful,” Adam said. “We’ve had a lot of positive feedback so far.”

Americorps volunteer Esteban Cisneros plans to offer English classes open to all on Vashon beginning April 13. The classes will meet twice weekly and run for 10 weeks.

For more information about family nights at Chautauqua or the upcoming English classes, call 463-2882, ext. 305.

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