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Banking on Parent Educators, Parents As Educators

PNC Grant Helps Fund More Outreach


In a room designated for storytelling at the Wyoming branch of the Kent District Library, Ethel Rodriguez spoke in Spanish with Careni and Joel Solis about ways to best help their son, Ivan, 3, and daughter, Melanie, 5 months, stay on schedule developmentally.

The meeting involved the whole Solis family. Rodriguez, a Kent ISD Bright Beginnings parent educator, led activities that had Ivan clapping gleefully, Melanie smiling toothlessly, mom and dad beaming with pride, and sisters Paola, a sixth-grader, and Alondra, a fourth-grader, joining the fun.

Ivan and mom Careni Solis get their library cards

Rodriguez has worked with the family since September. She focuses on helping Hispanic children, from infancy to kindergarten, and their parents. At the library, she taught Careni how to give Melanie a baby massage, beneficial for bonding and emotional development, she explained. She read the family a story, and led a game focused on large-motor skill development for Ivan that had everyone hopping like frogs and galloping like horses.

She named colors with Ivan, “verde, green” and counted dinosaurs in a book with him, “uno, dos, tres, quatro, cinco, seis, siete.”

Bright Beginnings Parent Educators are trained and certified in the Parents As Teachers evidence- and research-based curriculum, which they use to help parents learn to teach their children at home. Services include home visits, playgroups, developmental screenings and a network of resources.

Careni Solis flaps like a bird during an animal game
Careni Solis flaps like a bird during an animal game

Reaching Out to Hispanic Families

Serving Spanish-speaking families often requires going the extra mile. Rodriguez, who is from Peru and is fluent in English and Spanish, is working with 19 Hispanic families from Godfrey-Lee and Godwin Heights Public Schools, districts with a high percentage of those students. She makes twice-monthly home visits and hosts special library sessions that end with family members getting their own library cards. Rodriguez’s salary is partially funded through a $10,000 Grow Up Great grant from PNC Bank.

Jan Sabin, parent educator coordinator for Bright Beginnings, said Rodriguez and other Spanish-speaking parent educators go above and beyond their job responsibilities. They translate for families, make phone calls and help with paperwork. “There are significant extra hours needed for serving families,” Sabin said.

Dad Joel Solis catches the baby’s attention
Dad Joel Solis catches the baby’s attention

There are many immigrant families like the Solises whose children are starting school in the U.S. According to the 2015 report “Immigrant and Refugee Workers in the Early Childhood Field,” by the Migration Policy Institute, “The growth of the U.S. 0-5 population is becoming increasingly diverse. Homes in the U.S. with children ages 5 and under who have at least one immigrant parent now account for all the net population growth of children in that age group in the U.S.”

Overall, Rodriguez’s work is helping the Solises and other Hispanic families have better access to what they need. “I think through programs like Bright Beginnings they can have the opportunity to access and accomplish their goal of why they came here,” she said. “They came here to have better opportunities.”

Melanie watches “Baby Faces” during her baby massage
Melanie watches “Baby Faces” during her baby massage

Stories, Questions and Books

Joel, who works at a packing company, and Careni, a stay-at-home mother, are emigrants from Guatemala. They said they see benefits of Bright Beginnings for their children. Melanie shows signs of crawling, Careni said, perhaps from increased time spent on her tummy. Ivan asks lots of questions, makes up stories about dinosaurs, has learned to hold a pencil correctly and loves to do the “homework” Rodriguez assigns, Joel said.

Rodriguez also puts books into children’s hands and homes. With their new library cards, the Solises can check out books whenever they want, a practice hoped to become a regular activity.

“Since you have been coming to my house, I see Ivan is more interested in preschool. Now he wants to go to school,” Joel said to Rodriguez in Spanish. “He used to scribble; now he is more patient and is drawing more specific things by using his imagination.”

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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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