By MIKE ISAACS | firstname.lastname@example.org
Full article: http://skokie.suntimes.com/news/18410372-418/parent-mentors-enhance-skokie-school-landscape.html
PARENT MENTOR: New parent-mentor Maria Palomera helps second grader Jasmine Nichols last week with some work at Devonshire School. This was the first week of a new parent-mentor program. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times
The new parent mentors who came to Devonshire and Madison School classrooms for the first time last week quietly made their presences felt.
Peek into classroom after classroom and there they were — helping with basic duties so the teacher was freed up to spend more time with students, working one-on-one with a student or a small group of students in some classroom activity, bonding with a student who may not speak English so fluently quite yet.
Many of the parent mentors can relate to that challenge, since they themselves came from another country to live in this area.
“This is a perfect compliment to what we’re doing,” said Niles Township English Language Learner Parent Center Director Corrie Wallace. “The possibilities with a program like this are endless. There’s so much positive for our parents, for the students and for the teachers. Everyone benefits.”
Devonshire and Madison schools are among 45 in Illinois to adopt the program, backed by a $1 million grant from the Illinois State Board of Education with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and other community organizations. The ELL Center partnered with Open Communities, whose mission it is to “help north suburban Chicago residents come together to foster welcoming, inclusive and just communities.”
“It’s an opportunity to do something really dynamic with our parent population,” said Devonshire School Principal Randy Needleman, who worked closely with the ELL Center. “We’ve always had the goal of getting parents more involved in the classroom and this is a great program for that.”
Needleman sees the program growing over time as parents become increasingly comfortable in a new environment.
“The sky is the limit in how this will benefit our students,” he said.
Parents did not simply walk into classrooms as soon as the ELL Center jumped on board. Extensive training, led by Jackie Cyriac, prepared them for working with teachers and students. Cyriac herself moved here from India and eventually came to the ELL Center to volunteer; Wallace knew she would be perfect to lead the program.
That many parent mentors come from different countries, though, opens up great opportunities for meaningful relationships with students. About 90 languages are spoken in the homes of Niles Township students, and each classroom reflects extraordinary diversity.
The benefit of that mutual diversity has already paid off in Kitty Lierandi’s first grade class at Devonshire. The teacher said she just recently had a new student in class who speaks Arabic, a language she doesn’t know. But her parent mentor, Nada Yahya, who moved from Iraq less than three years ago, does.
Eighty percent of Lierandi’s students speak a language other than English in their homes.
“Instead of me running everything, I can think about the best ways to have these students get more adult attention,” she said.
A short distance away, teacher Ana Hrvojevic works with kindergarten ELL students with mentor Donna Parker, one of the few program parent mentors born in this country.
“It’s hard to do everything by yourself, and I’m a big believer in team teaching,” Hrvojevic said.”To have another set of eyes here, to have another person engaged in what students are doing, benefits everyone.”
Those benefits are on view this very day. Parker sits on the carpeted floor with four students working with blocks during a group activity. She immediately relates well to them, and they are warm and trusting in return to her. One girl throws her arms around her.
Parker moved with her family to Skokie only last summer — in part because of the schools and also the great diversity of the area. She wanted to become more involved.
“Kids want to see their parents in the schools — especially at an early age,” Parker said. “But it’s harder for some parents to do that, so this program is a great answer for that. It helps everyone.”
The grant covers the parent mentor program for the rest of the school year. What happens after that is still not known, but program backers believe it will prove too valuable to abandon.
“Everyone believes in this program,” Wallace said. “No one wants to see it end. Just the opposite. I want to find a way to expand it to other schools.”