Passing the door of a second-grade class at Maybury Elementary, you may well stop and smile, while a familiar tune comes to mind: One of these things is not like the others; one of these things just doesn’t belong.
Inside the class, a mother is seated next to her child, in a same small chair, learning the lesson with her own sense of wonder.
This arrangement is part of the English Language Learners Program (ELLP). Once you know what ELLP is about, you will understand: Yes, this grown-up student is not like the others, but she certainly does belong.
In this classroom, the mother is Lidia Rojas, next to her daughter Natali. Lidia is now in her second year of participating in ELLP. Before she began, she spoke only a few words of English. Now she has set an ambitious goal for herself.
“This year I want to learn to speak perfect English,” says Lidia. “For so long, I have been dependent on my husband to translate for me. Now I can go to the market, go to the movies, and read the paper. But the best thing is that I can help my kids with their homework, and I can talk to their teachers about their progress.”
ELLP is a literacy initiative focusing on non-English-speaking families with children in pre-kindergarten through third grade. Southwest Solutions runs the program at four elementary schools in southwest Detroit: Maybury, Harms, Munger and Phoenix Academy. ELLP teaches parents English in adult education classes at the school, and allows parents to spend time in their children’s classroom. Parents both learn with their children and learn to support their children’s learning and development.
ELLP also offers supportive childcare for the young siblings of the children in the program to help them become “ready to learn” before they enter kindergarten.
This school year, ELLP is serving more than 80 parents and about 100 children. The program is very effective. Last school year, 97% of the parents realized their goals of improving their English skills and helping their children understand their schoolwork and the value of education. As a result, their children did better in school, and 94% were promoted to the next grade level.
Both Lidia and her husband Juan were only able to complete ninth grade in Mexico. They have high aspirations for their three children, and expect each to achieve higher education. As Lidia has gained confidence in her English, she has changed the way she looks at her own future.
“My dream is to get my GED and more,” Lidia says. “I think my kids will help me get there because they are my teachers and supporters, too.”
Carmen Rodriguez is also starting her second year of the ELLP at Maybury. Her son Ulises is in second grade, and is an excellent student. Like Lidia, Carmen spoke very little English before enrolling in the program.
“I have perfect attendance,” says Carmen with a note of pride and determination. “We have class four days a week, and I am always excited to come because I know that I will be learning new things every time.”
In her first year of ELLP, Carmen’s English proficiency went from being a “low beginner” to a “high beginner.” She, too, like many other parents in the program, now hopes to study for the GED eventually.
“This program has helped our family so much, and I hope that we can one day give back in some way,” Carmen says.
ELLP is a free program that helps low- income families. ELLP could serve many more families in southwest Detroit if it had the funding. Research clearly shows that an investment in effective early childhood education now returns enormous benefits for families and our entire community later.
The program costs about $10 per day for each family it serves. It is supported by individuals, foundations and corporations, including the Edward C. Levy Company, the Supporting Opportunities Fund, the Marjorie and Maxwell Jospey Foundation, and the J. Ferrantino Charitable Foundation. Their contributions are matched by the United Way for Southeastern Michigan (UWSEM), through a three-year Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant. For the next two years, SIF will match any donation to ELLP.
If you would like to donate to ELLP, please use the online donation form for the appeal.