The Parent Resource Center of the Payson Unified School District is in the business of breaking down barriers -- barriers that restrict youngsters from getting the best education they can. One of those barriers is language. It is hard for parents and school leaders and teachers to make the best decisions for education when they cannot communicate.
To help the Spanish-only-speaking parents of students, the district has instituted a new English Language Learners program through the Parent Resource Center. There are two classes and more than 60 parents working to learn English to better communicate with their children's teachers, administrators and school resource personnel.
The parents had a special meeting Oct. 19 at the Rim Country Middle School library. This outreach -- or rap -- session brought the parents together with school administrators and counselors to discuss questions and concerns. Assisting with the session were several translators, including students.
The Oct. 19 program was coordinated by Blanche Oakland, one of the PUSD Parent Community and Resource Liaison.
"This program is part of No Child Left Behind," Oakland said. "A teacher and a liaison volunteer their services."
Oakland works with the beginners and Karen Zeller teaches the intermediate program.
Although the classes started in late August, she said parents interested in learning English can still attend.
"No one will be turned away," Oakland said. The classes meet from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. every Monday and Tuesday.
She said this was the first opportunity for this group of parents to meet the school administrators. The class is also in its first year.
"The administrators thoroughly enjoyed it," Oakland said. "We're trying to bridge a gap."
Reviewing the evening's discussions, Oakland said the parents of Hispanic students are concerned about the same issues that bother other parents:
- Transportation and the fact their children are getting to school too early.
- Improving the notification process on attendance.
Some of the more surprising suggestions made by the parents to the administrators -- year-round school with only a couple of weeks off at Christmas and Easter; and use of uniforms.
"One mother said if she saw a child walking along in a uniform, she would know they were not where they were supposed to be and would call the school," Oakland said.
Issues of concern for the administrators included attendance and bullying.
Oakland said the parents will now call and tell the schools when their children are going to be absent.
On the issue of bullying, the administrators stressed that the children must tell an adult when they are being bullied.
She said the parents would like another meeting with the district administrators in the spring.
There are plans to expand the program to teach Spanish to English-only-speakers, Oakland said.
Oakland and her counterpart, Christy Walton, who provides parent and community liaison services for the elementary schools, are making a concerted effort to reach the Spanish-speaking community.
Oakland provided the following information in her Community Parent Liaison Report for 2003-2004.
"These families relocate to the United States ... illiterate and do not speak English. They do, however, bring strong family values, religious beliefs, skilled and manual labor, good food and great music. The challenge and pressure that our ELL students (and families) face is a battle that is fought daily, just to survive. Perceived with integrity, I developed interrelationships with the families to assist them with the necessary basic needs."
She said these needs include such things as recommending health care coverage through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System; assistance with applications; translating; reading and writing formal documents; housing; food and more.
Through the Parent Resource Center similar services are available to all parents and guardians of students in Payson schools.
The next "meet and greet" for the district's administrators will be in Gisela, 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 16.
"Normally these things are held in outlying communities and were very successful last year," Oakland said.
The center is at 514 W. Wade Lane, Payson. For more information, call (928) 472-5735. Oakland can also be reached by e-mail at email@example.com. Christy Walton is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.