Literacy Council Program Empowers Parents

A women and child look at a book in a library.

Strategic Grants Support Families with Children

Fourteen years ago Ana moved to the U.S. from Mexico. Today, she is married and has three children – a son, 18 and two daughters, 10 and 8 years old. There are plenty of challenges to starting a new life in another country, including the language barriers that impact every facet of life. Three years ago, Ana started participating in a parent literacy program hosted by the Literacy Council at Waverly Elementary School, and it’s changing her life.

Ana says she felt left out of conversations with her daughters, who can both speak English, and she found it challenging to understand what was happening with her children’s schooling and advocate for them when necessary. At times she struggled to keep up with conversations when in public, at the grocery store or bank, and felt that people were sometimes unkind or impatient with her because she couldn’t speak English.

Then, an opportunity presented itself at her children’s school and while she knew it would be a lot of work, she jumped at the chance to learn the language.

“I needed to learn another language because my kids speak another language,” Ana said. She added “Here the school system is very different than in my country and I don’t understand a lot of stuff. Here [Waverly Elementary School] there are people who speak Spanish to help explain things but what happens when our kids go to middle school and high school? So I need to learn English so I can understand and deal with problems myself.”

Three adults are talking as they walk down a school hallway.

Literacy Council tutor John Bruton, left, and Linda Bruton, Literacy Council program coordinator, right, speak with Ana at Waverly Elementary School.

For the last five years, the Literacy Council has worked with Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS) and the Judy Centers to reach parents, referred by the school liaison staff, whose young children attend Title I elementary schools and who need to improve their literacy skills. According to Sarah Fowkes, Program Manager at the Literacy Council, the program has grown from two elementary schools to five with dedicated classes and tutoring provided at the schools during school hours, eliminating the barriers of transportation and childcare that often prevent parents from seeking help. The program helps the parent to interact with the school and to be an active participant in the education of their child in addition to the general benefits of improved literacy.

In its effort to support families with children in Frederick County, the Community Foundation provided the Literacy Council with a strategic grant of $10,000 to help pave the way for families like Ana’s.

Ana has come a long way in her English literacy journey. She jokes that now her kids can no longer talk about her in a language she doesn’t understand, and with the confidence she has gained from being able to speak English, she has become an active volunteer at the school and a mentor to other immigrant parents.

“Often she represents others that don’t necessarily have that courage yet to engage with the school community,” said John Bruton, the Literacy Council volunteer who runs the classes. “She empowered herself by taking advantage of this resource, and now she’s empowering other women too by encouraging them to learn English and get involved.”

“She’s a star,” said Claudia Hernandez, Program Administrator for Judy Centers. “As a parent and immigrant in this county, she’s using the resources available to her to be a viable contributing part of the community in Frederick.”

While Ana is active in her children’s school, she’s also been very busy doing other things. She said she found free classes at the library in Baltimore to help her learn about running a small business, and with that under her belt, she and her husband launched a cleaning business last year. She smiles when she says she’ll take almost any free class she can find.

“She’s going to grab any opportunity she can get,” John said as he beamed with pride at Ana, his very ambitious and successful student.