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Shaver takes innovative ESL project to streets


There is something refreshing about witnessing those infrequent instances when groups of self-motivated, innovative, and passionate people are in the process of realizing their goals and reaping the benefits of their hard work. Such was the case recently when the Memo met with representatives of Shaver Elementary and the Parkrose School District and listened to the stories of the English Language Class Project unfold.

ELCP is an English as a Second Language project aimed at educating the non-native English-speaking parents of students who attend Parkrose schools and, more specifically, Shaver Elementary and Prescott Elementary. ELCP is a brand-new, evolving project, and although it began with Shaver, it has already grown into a cooperative community effort drawing on resources from Portland State University; Metro Family Services; the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods program; local, state and federal government and private businesses.

ELCP began three years ago as an in-house project at Shaver Elementary. ESL classes were held at Shaver for any non-native English speaker with a desire to learn the language. Rosenda Gavin, an educational assistant at Shaver who is also the mother of three Shaver students, taught classes. Classes were held (and continue to be held) throughout the school year two days a week, two hours each day.

The ESL classes were implemented in response to the growing Latino population in the school district and in recognition of the need for English instruction within these families. While in 2002-03, the Latino population in PSD was at 17 percent, it grew to 41 percent over the past five years.

Many of the families of students in the district speak little or no English. It is easy to imagine how the parents’ language barriers can create serious obstacles to education for their children. As Sheryl Dischner, English Language Learner coordinator and teacher at Shaver, explained: “If you look at the research — in many second language families — kids learn English more rapidly than their parents... [Consequently, the parents] end up losing their ability to discipline their kids.”

Dischner continued, “In an effort to really increase the success of our English Language Learner population — specifically Latinos because it’s our largest group — one of the research-based ideas is that we help the families learn how to speak English so they can help their children with homework; they’re more involved in the school, they feel like they can come and talk to their teachers about homework or any other questions they have. And it keeps the family unit cohesive and communicating — and communicating with the school, which raises all the students’ academic success.”

The ESL classes held at Shaver were the first response to confronting the growing language barrier and its correlative problems. However, it seems the situation had already grown too far out of hand because when the state Department of Education audited PSD in 2006, the district did not fare well. The state and the district determined that not enough was being done to involve parents in their children’s education or to ensure compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

In response to the audit, parents of students in PSD formed the Family Engagement Team in January of 2007. The team’s aim was to address the challenge of involving entire families in the process of education and to increase students’ academic success.

One of the first hurdles to success that FET identified was a language barrier between parents and teachers, or rather, between parents and the school. In order to successfully surmount this obstacle, members of FET knew that more time, effort and money would need to be invested in ESL instruction.

As Jim MacBean, a parent at Prescott and a member of FET, said: “Our problem is communicating with our Latino families. We can’t keep them coming to meetings. We can get them there for one meeting, but we can’t keep them coming because we have no way of communicating with them.”

It was clear that if increasing parental involvement were a necessary step in meeting the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act, then communication between the school district and the parents would need to be improved.

The solution was arrived at through a mixture of inspiration and circumstance.

While Dischner and educational assistant and parent Jeanie Toscano were on a door-to-door campaign inviting parents to attend a domestic violence meeting at Shaver Elementary, they discovered that many of the parents were also interested in attending the ESL classes held there. However, there seemed to be a problem of access.

As Dischner related, “Several of them said ‘I can’t get to your classes at the school because I have three or four kids, it’s the middle of winter, I don’t have a driver’s license, I don’t drive, and it takes 20 [to] 30 minutes to walk in the rain.” The parents asked if the classes could be held at the Images Columbia Station apartment complex in which they lived.

When FET discovered it had some extra funds to apply toward the goals of meeting conditions of the No Child Left Behind Act, Gavin suggested that the funds be put toward creating the ESL classes at the apartments. Support for the idea was enthusiastic, and the plans were put into action immediately.

As MacBean recounted, Shaver Principal Cindy Bartman quickly backed the plan with moral and financial support. “You really have to pat Cindy on the back for understanding what the needs of her school population’s parents were, and then doing something about it,” MacBean said. “Shaver took the initiative themselves without having any additional financing or funding for anything. They saw the need for these parents to learn English, and they utilized what available resources they had, and just made sure that it happened.”

Dischner pitched the idea to the manager at the Images Columbia Station Apartments and secured an apartment, donated courtesy of Columbia Station, for the use of the ELCP classes.

The next step was finding a teacher for the classes. The ELCP team went to Portland State University and proposed that the teaching position be offered to graduate students as part of the practicum work required for their certification. In very little time, Hsiao-Yun Shotwell, a graduate student in linguistics, was onboard as the new ELCP teacher.

The ELCP team also hired a childcare provider (a Spanish-speaking parent from Shaver who is paid through the SUN program and Metro Family Services) to care for any of the children of those who attend the classes. The daycare is held onsite at the Columbia Station Apartments in one room of the two-bedroom apartment. The childcare provider watches children — engaging them in language and literacy activities — while parents are busy with ESL classes held in the living room.

During the course of the eight-week program (which started on April 19) the ELCP group and members of FET decided to push ahead and apply for federal Title IV funds to provide future funding for the program. The funds were awarded and will be applied, beginning this summer, to continuing and expanding the current program. However, Title IV funds also carry with them a two-year statute of limitations, so a lack of funding continues to present itself as a potential threat to the longevity of ELCP.

The ELCP team and FET are investigating several alternative sources of funding. Federal, state and private grants are, of course, one obvious resource. Another potential resource, however, may be private businesses.

Since ELCP serves an adult, working population with an aim to cultivate reading and writing skills in English, the project also functions as a sort of pre-employment training program. With basic skills in English reading and writing, many entry-level vocations are opened up to students in ELCP.

MacBean related the story of one ELCP student who later went on to find employment as a manager in a fast-food restaurant. “Those jobs are available to a lot of Latinos as jobs where they can get a start,” MacBean said. “So, we’re thinking that there might be a possibility that some of the chain restaurants...might jump in and say, ‘Hey, this is perfect for us because you’re basically training the employees for us.’”

Thus far, ELCP has been met with an early, and welcome, success. Classes are well attended and enthusiastic. During the first eight-week course, 12 to 14 students attended every class, bringing along one to three children per person.

Parents involved in ELCP are also increasing their involvement in the schools and in the community. Dischner observed that since the implementation of ELCP, Shaver parent-faculty meetings have increased in attendance from around five to, now, 40 people. Furthermore, Dischner claimed that the ELCP classes are fostering a greater sense of community between parents. “Not only are they increasing their English language abilities,” said Dischner, “but they are...developing their own sense of community, networking, connecting and helping one another with needs.”

Two parents in the ELCP classes took time out of their busy schedules to discuss the benefits and successes of the program. (Two other parents had also planned to attend the meeting but were not able to come due to fear of leaving their homes after the Del Monte immigration raid and subsequent arrests that happened on Tuesday, June 12.) Claudia Carillo, mother of three children attending Shaver Elementary, and Lucilla Ramos, mother of one Shaver student, explained how ELCP benefits them and the entire community. Both parents expressed a desire to learn English so they might find employment outside of the home, so they could access more services in the community, and so they could increase their involvement in the community through “more communication.” But, as Carillo asserted, the most important aspect of the program, and the primary reason she attends the classes, is because it benefits her family. With the English language skills gained through ELCP, Carillo is able to be more involved in her children’s lives and education. Because of ELCP, “puedo entender mis hijas (I am able to understand my daughters),” she said.

When asked what could possibly be improved about ELCP, Carillo and Ramos replied that they would only like, “More days, more time, and more [practice] speaking.”

The ELCP summer course began Monday, June 20 at the Images Columbia Station Apartments at 13422 N.E. Sandy Blvd. Classes are scheduled every Monday and Wednesday from 1 to 3 p.m.

Classes at Prescott Elementary begin Tuesday, July 16 at 10410 N.E. Prescott St. in the annex, Room 19, and are scheduled for Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 3 p.m.

Classes are open to any non-English speaking person; it is not required that ELCP participants have children in the school district. There is, however, a maximum of fifteen students per class, and classes cost $1 per student for the entire eight-week course.

Also, positions are available for two ELCP teachers and two childcare workers. Childcare workers need to have First Aid/CPR certification. Volunteers and donations for the project are solicited and welcomed.

Las Clases de Ingles comencieron el Lunes, el 20 de Junio, en los Apartamentos de Columbia Station en 13422 N.E. Sandy Blvd. Las clases van a continuar para ocho semanas, para los Lunes y Martes, desde la una hasta las tres de la tarde.

Mas Clases de Ingles van a comencer en la escuela de Prescott Elementary en el 16 de Julio. Las clases estan en la sala 19 en 10410 N.E. Prescott St. Las clases en Prescott van a estar cada Martes y Miercoles, desde la una hasta las tres de la tarde.

Las clases estan abierto a todas. Hay un limite de 15 personas cada clase. Las clases cuestan $1 cada persona para tomar todo el curso de ocho semanas.

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