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Parent Ed seeing next-generation helpers

Program helps empower, connect families

Kelloggsville – Andrea Ronzon Contreras was 5 when she started to tag along with her parents and older brother to the Parent Education Program at Kelloggsville High School.

The district has offered the program, which provides English language lessons to the parents of Kelloggsville students, since 2009. Andrea’s parents, Margarita Contreras and her husband, Alberto Ronzon, began attending soon after.

They have been faithful attendees ever since – two-plus hours every Monday night – and consequently their kids, Andrea and her older brother, Bruno, grew up not just as Kelloggsville students but also roaming the halls of the high school while their parents worked on their English.

‘I enjoyed my time. Now, I wanted to get involved because I wanted to help out… I knew the program was going to go big and the adults were going to need help with their kids. So here I am.’

— Andrea Ronzon Contreras

Now, a decade later, Andrea is a freshman at Kelloggsville High School, and she again is back at PEP on Monday nights. But this time around she is one of the helpers, shepherding and attending to the little ones, just as she was once cared for. Full circle.

She smiles when she thinks about the symmetry. 

“I remember when I was little helping my parents for a bit with their class and then hanging out with the high school helpers, hanging out with them in the old high school before they rebuilt it,” she said on a recent Monday night at the Kent District Library branch located inside the new Kelloggsville High School, where the class is now held.

Andrea Ronzon Contreras, center, and her mother, Margarita Contreras, and father, Beto Ronzon

‘I Knew the Program Was Going to Go Big’

She recalled her helpers playing with her in classrooms and the gym, and she remembered how good it felt to get to know the older students every week for a couple hours.

Paying that forward to the next generation of Kelloggsville kids seems to her like the most natural thing in the world.

“I enjoyed my time,” she said. “Now I wanted to get involved because I wanted to help out. We take the kids outside to draw on the sidewalk with chalk or play in the gym with balls or watch videos and play games with the kids in Mrs. Faulks room. It reminds me of the time when I was little and would have fun. I knew the program was going to go big and the adults were going to need help with their kids. So here I am.”

The aforementioned Mrs. Faulk – Kelloggsville High School teacher Susan Faulk – agrees with Andrea about the program going big.

“This is a boom year for us,” she said after a recent class. “I believe we’ve had 35-40 (parents) the last three weeks, and a few more come each week.”

Faulk added that classes were not able to meet during the shutdown due to the coronavirus, so there was likely some pent-up demand now that sessions are back for the 2021-22 school year. There is a 10-week session in the fall and another coming in the spring.

Classes are Making a Difference

Attendees get there on time most weeks to take advantage of a free meal provided by Peppino’s: usually pizza, salad, drinks and coffee. While they eat, many of them talk quietly with one another and get set up on their computers with Rosetta Stone, which they access for free thanks to Kent District Library. The program also is supported via an annual stipend from Aquinas College.

Then, the next 90 minutes is spent on class with current sessions seeing the students split into a basic class, taught by Kelloggsville teacher Chip Peterson, and an advanced class, taught by Faulk, with translation services provided during the night by Kelloggsville teacher Diana Berlanga.

The classes use a Ventures curriculum, designed for adults who are learning English.

‘When parents feel connected to the school, we believe their children will be more successful in school.’

— teacher Susan Faulk

For Andrea’s parents, the classes have been a steady constant for a decade now and are making a difference.

Margarita Contreras said they have helped her learn and express herself in her daily, normal life, including at work and the many other tasks she has to fulfill on a day-to-day basis. 

Her husband, Beto Ronzon, agreed.

“I like how patient the teachers are with everyone while helping us learn,” he said. “They have helped me in my everyday life. My life has changed 100 percent as I have learned the language.”

He noted that as a sub-contractor painter, a better understanding of English is crucial to his work performance.

“That is one of the reasons why I wanted to learn English, to help me understand my contractors,” he said. 

One desk over, Leslie Palacios nodded her head while eating a salad and getting her laptop booted up.

“The classes help me communicate better at work and help me when she’s out running errands,” she said. “I’m very thankful.”

More Connected to the School

Faulk gets it, and she said from a school district perspective, the classes benefit both parents and the schools.

“The parents who are learning English through this program will be more empowered to help their children with school,” Faulk said. “They also feel more connected to the school. When parents feel connected to the school, we believe their children will be more successful in school.”

It’s also personally satisfying for her and her colleagues.

“The parents want to learn,” she said. “Many of them work long days and then they come to class ready to learn for two-and-a-half hours. Their desire to learn English and their gratitude are the reasons I keep teaching this class.”

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Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan covers East Grand Rapids, Kelloggsville, is lead reporter for Grand Rapids and also is the point person for the SNN Facebook and Twitter feeds. He hails from Exeter, Ontario, but has called Grand Rapids home since 1985. He is the son of a longtime public school teacher who taught both English and machine shop! Phil took both classes at South Huron District High School, but English stuck, and at Calvin College, where he met his wife, Sue, he majored in English and minored in journalism. His background includes both freelance writing and public relations work, including teaching an advertising and PR course at the college level. In the summer of 2019, he began his own freelance writing and communications business. In his spare time, Phil plays pick-up hockey and pickleball and tries to keep tabs on his two adult children. Read Phil's full bio

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