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‘I Want to be Capable to Speak’

Literacy Classes Help Parents Help Their Children


Esperanza Mercado wants her children — kindergartner Coral, first-grader Yra, and fourth-grader Adrian — to have big goals. “I want them to get their master’s degrees,” she said.

“I didn’t get much education,” she said while attending an English literacy class at North Godwin Elementary School. Mercado’s formal education ended in sixth grade. An immigrant from Mexico, she moved to the United States more than 20 years ago.

She’s attending the intermediate-level class, offered by the Literacy Center of West Michigan and led by Americorps instructors, for two hours twice a week to improve her English-speaking and reading skills. At North and West Godwin elementary schools, where more than 40 percent of families are English-language learners, basic and intermediate classes are offered all school year long. Grand Rapids Public Schools also offers the program.

Mercado already speaks basic English, but wants to build confidence.

“I want to be able to communicate with people who speak English,” she explained. “I want to help my kids with their homework, attend meetings with no helper interpreting. I want to be capable to speak without someone else to help me.”

The fact classes are held at school is ideal, said Sarah Schantz, North Godwin Kent School Services Network community school coordinator.

“Having it here makes it a lot easier,” Schantz said. “It’s right after school starts. Parents stay for class after dropping off students. Having them here gives them the extra opportunity to stay after class and help out with things that they like to.”

The class helps parents connect in other ways too. It’s for all non-native English speakers, not just Spanish-speaking.

“It helps them be able to communicate with us, with their students, with helping them with homework,” ” Schantz said.

Americorps instructor Kari Moss teaches English
Americorps instructor Kari Moss teaches English

Helping Students Read Proficiently

Marti Hernandez, director of the Family Literacy Program at the Literacy Center of West Michigan, said the program serves a huge need as the Hispanic population continues to grow.

The program’s aims are tied to third-grade literacy, helping parents help their children be fluent readers by then, said Hernandez, a former principal at Burton Middle School. “Our goal is to help the parents learn English so they can be more involved in their child’s education, and be more informed on what’s going on in their child’s school and what the goals are for their child,” Hernandez said.

“It also helps them with employability,” she added. “You need to have some sort of English in order to get a job and to just survive.”

Parents also learn the importance of promoting literacy in the home. Monthly Family Activity Nights are offered for families.

“I am so pleased to see so many of my parents participating in our English Literacy classes,” said North Godwin Principal Mary Lang. “They are so committed to learning the language so they are able to better support their children through their educational process.”

Participant Maria Nunoz, mom to kindergartener Gadiel, sixth-grader Adan and seventh-grader Lorenzo, said she’s continuing to study English so she can better help them in school.

“I help Gadiel with homework, and the alphabet pronunciation,” she said.

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Literacy Center of West Michigan

Parents study English while their children are in classrooms nearby
Parents study English while their children are in classrooms nearby

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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