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Midvale Journal

Evening language class boosts Spanish-speaking kindergartners success in English

Feb 05, 2020 11:39AM ● By Julie Slama

Teacher Maria Alvarez, seen here helping kindergartner, Kevin Angel and his mother, Ivette Martinez, leads an evening class to help Spanish-speaking kindergartners be able to learn to read in English by first grade. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Fifteen years ago, Ivette Martinez moved from Mexico to Utah. At first, she didn’t learn much English, but now she, along with her son, Kevin Angel, are learning together, thanks to a program at Copperview Elementary.

Kevin is a kindergartner who is learning his letters and their sounds like his peers in class, but also attending “Mi Idiomo, Mi Exito” or “My Language, My Success.” Seven times during the year, he and his mother are attending an evening session with about 20 other classmates and their parents to practice skills to help him be able to read English by first grade.

“He needs more ABCs and more English,” Martinez said about her son, adding that her older children also are helping him learn at home.

The program is taught to parents in Spanish by Maria Alvarez, a former Copperview and Midvale Elementary School teacher, who has taught the skills to families at that school. 

“I came to the U.S. by myself with five children,” she said. “I understand the same problems and challenges and worries as these parents. This is a program that provides Hispanic parents guidance.”

Alvarez created the program beginning in 1995 and over a number of years, has developed a strong foundation for success.

“Many parents think it’s just the teacher that teaches, but they need to support the English skills at home. When students have a strong foundation in education, there won’t be as many problems and it will lead to so much more success,” she said.

At Copperview, Alvarez meets with kindergarten teachers to learn the material and know how best to support the curriculum. Then, starting on welcome-to-school day, she invites Hispanic kindergarten parents to be involved in the program at no cost.

“We learn the letters’ names, sounds, learn high frequency words, practice nonsense words, learn phonics and every bit of the curriculum. Many Hispanic parents feel they cannot help their children since they don’t know English, but I teach parents the names of the letters through a word in Spanish, so they understand. Once the parents understand, they can teach it to their children, but the students are learning it in English,” she said.

For example, Hispanic parents can look at a tree and say, “arbol,” then learn the beginning sound of the word, “ar” is similar to the pronunciation of the letter R in English.

“We don’t want to take away the students’ ability to speak bilingual, but to introduce them to reading in English,” Alvarez said. “It’s a program that works.”

Community Schools Facilitator Jenna Landward said the program includes activities and stories Alvarez reads in English.

“It really engages our parents and students together in learning, in building stronger relationships with each other and the school,” she said.

Copperview Principal Jeri Rigby, who was an administrator at Midvale Elementary, applauds the successful program that has helped both school communities.

“Getting parents engaged to provide support and active role in learning with their children in kindergarten is huge,” she said. “Maria is an educator, who has a passion and power for educating and impacting parents and students’ lives.”

Rigby said that when looking at past data, the program has shown that these children have improved earlier by having a high frequency of practice when parents are engaged at the home as well as it has fostered strong communication between teachers and parents. 

“There’s value in the partnership in the community where parents are using strategies to help kids become successful. It’s empowering the children to learn. And Maria is holding these parents and children to be accountable,” Rigby said.

During the session, Copperview provides the evening meal for the families.

“It helps to make an evening of it — to learn, be engaged, and not be concerned about fixing dinner. It all makes a difference,” she said. “Latinos-in-Action students are providing childcare for the siblings, so parents don’t have to worry about that. This is part of a community school, to have a network of support for one another.”

Alvarez said she hopes to post the program on the internet to help others.

“It’s a good feeling to help others who are in the same situation as I was in 1991 when I came here,” she said. “I know parents can learn and help their children. They must learn English to not only survive, but to be successful in the United States.”