English program aims for families

Language: A Howard Community College program helps immigrant parents and their kids learn together and prepare to start school.

April 04, 2002|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

There are prep courses in Howard County for law school, college, even high school. And, now, there's one for kindergarten, too.

The class, called "English for Speakers of Other Languages for Families," is designed for preschool immigrant children and their families to prepare for the first year of school. Elizabeth Coppolino, the project manager who also teaches part of the class, said it is geared for parents as much as children.

"Everyone is behind the curve and that's the whole point, to get Mom and Dad and child prepared for the next level," she said.

Educators say the class, which is run by Howard Community College instructors and paid for with nearly $25,000 in HCC funds and State Department of Education grants, is the only one of its kind in the area. Most ESOL classes cater to children or parents, but almost never both, they say.

"Parents are the children's best teachers because they know their children the best ... so it's very important that [parents and children] learn English together," said Min Kim, who coordinates interpretation, translation and outreach efforts for the Howard County public school system's English for Speakers of Other Languages program.

The class, which meets twice a week at First Church of the Nazarene on Rogers Avenue in Ellicott City, is split into adult and children sections. Coppolino teaches the children, who range from 2 to 7 years old, basic language and social skills, and Nancy Hutchinson teaches English to the adults, all women.

The students are from countries such as France, Japan and Puerto Rico, but classes are conducted in English. The lessons are intermediate level.

All of the women have some knowledge of English, and some speak it very well. But rather than trying only to teach them English, the class is designed to also teach them about U.S. school systems.

Instead of depending purely on textbooks or lesson plans, Hutchinson has invited Howard County school system officials to class to answer questions and has held "practice" parent-teacher conferences.

"I want to teach English, but in a way that will help them understand the American school system," Hutchinson said.

Some parents say the program's main draw is to give their children a chance to refine their language skills.

Many parents say they speak only their native language at home and that it is difficult for them to teach their children English.

Iris Rivera moved to the United States in 2000 from her native Puerto Rico. Although Rivera, 36, learned to speak English in Puerto Rico and often speaks English to her 4-year-old daughter, Cristina, at home, Rivera said her daughter needs to refine her language skills.

Rivera said Cristina will say: "Mom, I want some juego." Juego is the Spanish word for juice.

"She'll be better prepared" after the course, Rivera said.

Coppolino said it is relatively easy for children Cristina's age to learn languages.

"If we can work with kids at or before kindergarten stage, we have a better chance of teaching them and helping them move along," she said.

Rivera said she, too, wants to improve her English because she plans to go to law school soon. "Everyone needs the practice ... and it's convenient to come at the same time," she said.

Class organizers are applying for a new grant and hope to gradually increase the program's capacity. They hope to expand to a larger venue where more classes can be offered.

"We're really hoping to reach out to a population that has been under-served," Coppolino said.

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