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California Schools, Mexican Government Promote Immigrant Education


School officials in California have teamed up with the Mexican government to offer extension courses for the parents of immigrant students, to improve the literacy levels and job skills of the parents.

In this small community north of central Los Angeles, children enter the school system speaking dozens of languages, especially Spanish, Armenian, Korean and Tagalog. Sandra Fink, president of the Glendale Teachers Association, says they usually master English fairly quickly, in part with the help of other children.

"We have kids from all over the world, which helps transition the kids who do not speak English as their primary language," she said. "So in class, they are pulled out for help with tutors and with assistants, and then at recess or any outside time, they are constantly inter-mixing with other kids who speak English, which helps them progress in the language."

For the parents, however, it is a different matter. Despite outreach by the schools, which often employ bilingual teachers or staff members, parents may feel left out of the educational process. Some were forced by economic necessity to leave school early.

Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, senior project director with the Los Angeles County Office of Education, says new study centers for Spanish-speaking adults will help remedy the problem. Called Plazas Comunitarias, the community study centers are aimed at parents. Three centers opened recently opened in Southern California, one of them in Glendale.

"And they are centers where parents can come and learn how to read, write, do math and develop work skills that can lead to receiving their elementary school diploma, their middle school diploma, or their high school diploma directly from Mexico," added Ms. Spiegel-Coleman.

The program is self-paced, so the adults can move through the material at their own speed. Courses are taught through computers, books, videos and CDs, all of which were donated by the Mexican government. The Mexican consulate in Los Angeles provided training for the tutors who will help the students make their way through the program.

"Patricio and me, we are helping in secondary level, but there are people helping in the primary [level], and there are people to teach [students] to learn to read, to write," said volunteer tutors, Saul Pulido, from Ecuador, and Patricio Landazuri, from Mexico.

Immigrant Gustavo Olvera, whose children attend school in the Los Angeles suburb of Palmdale, will take part in the program at a Plaza Comunitaria near his home.

"This program is important for me because the kids, they are growing up. They are getting into better levels, and you are not prepared to help them," he explained. "This is a good opportunity to be together with your family, to be closer."

He says the program will let him improve his own skills while enabling him to help his children with their homework.

Shelly Spiegel-Coleman says there is an added benefit for the children of the immigrants, as they watch their parents study.

"What a wonderful role model for the parents to be going to school and earning their diplomas while their children are in school earning their diplomas!" she said.

The school official says parents will find the educational materials accessible. The materials were designed in Mexico and reflect the experience of immigrants from Latin America.