School is out – Family Literacy classes ended for us in May. Celebrations were held at each of our twelve elementary school sites. Congratulations were offered, along with words of encouragement and “practice, practice, practice over the summer!” Food from many countries was enjoyed as celebrations took place. Children watched as their mothers and fathers received certificates – a powerful moment in the life of a child, who feels proud of his or her parent who came to school to learn English. There were smiles all around, and “thank you’s” for the Instructors who so patiently taught, explained, cared, understood, encouraged, and empowered. “See you in September!” they all said as they left.
Before the semester ended, my colleague and I visited a few of our Family Literacy programs and asked, “How did this class help you this year?” and “What did you like about it?” We expected to hear comments about how they had progressed in English, and how they felt more capable of entering into conversations in the school, or in public places. But we heard much more than that.
We heard mothers say they were not as embarrassed now to talk to the English speaking parents when they went to the school for a program. Rather than walking the other way, they felt comfortable being approached by English speakers to converse. They had developed confidence in themselves to interact with native English speakers.
We heard from mothers who said they felt happier because they had made friends in their English class – that previously they had been staying home in their apartment, alone and lonely, waiting for their children to arrive home from school. Now they felt connected to others in the community; women with common experiences and common hopes and dreams for their children and families. Their loneliness was gone.
We heard from parents who said they had the best parent/teacher conference EVER because of what they learned in their Family Literacy class, and that now they feel confident that they know how to conduct a meaningful and productive conference with the teacher. They were already looking forward to next years’ conferences!
We heard from mothers who, after sitting in on their child’s preschool Head Start class, now have a clearer understanding of how we teach children in our American schools, because it is so very different from the way they were taught in their home country. They learned how to share a book with their child, to ask questions to develop thinking and language, and to use toys as tools for learning.
When we took the time to listen, my colleague and I learned that when a parent participates in a Family Literacy class SO much more happens than just learning English. Opportunities for social interaction paved the way for lasting supportive relationships to develop. Being part of a supportive social network provides a sense of purpose and belonging and a recognition of self-worth. Mental health improves and lives change.
Family Literacy touches and impacts lives in ways that we may never know – affecting the futures of families all over America.
What have you learned by listening to the parents in your family literacy classes?