It’s a little after 6:30 at night inside Daugherty Elementary in Garland, but classes are in session. Alvaro Méndez stands in front of a group of eager students: They're parents learning English.
“It’s a girl. It’s a woman,” Méndez says. “She…”
An adult student finishes his sentence: “She…She…She is from Peru.”
They’re going over their homework and learning about subject-verb agreement.
“Ms. Reed is the teacher. She is not from my country. She is from Canada,” a student recites.
“Very well,” Méndez says.
The Garland school district has offered English language classes for adults for more than 15 years. There’s something different this year: The district isn’t just teaching parents English. It’s helping parents use what they learn to become better advocates for their kids at school.
Little steps to build confidence
Parents are learning how to use a computer and how to set up an email account.
Sofia Núñez is the parent engagement facilitator for the Garland school district. She oversees the ESL classes, which are free.
“We’re going to set them up on an account where they can track their child’s grades,” Núñez said. “And we’re going to show them how to use it in a way where they know what course they’re taking, what grades are they getting, are they missing an assignment?”
Another priority for the district is showing parents how to better prepare for conferences with their kid’s teachers — like how to ask questions about how their kids are doing in class.
“These little steps are not only going to empower the parents [but also] help them know the culture and the requisites,” Núñez said.
Núñez says parents who don’t speak much English need encouragement and confidence in their speaking ability. She hopes these classes give them just that.
“They’re assets in their child’s education. We know that every parent has hopes and dreams for their kids. All of us want good things for them,” she said.
The Migration Policy Institute says 11.5 million children in the U.S. are considered dual-language learners. These are children ages 8 and under and who have at home at least one parent who speaks a language other than English. Texas has 1.7 million who are dual-language learners, the second largest number in the country.
Getting closer to their kids
Martha Victoria, 46, just enrolled in an English language class at Daugherty. She has four kids: Two are in college and two are in Garland ISD. She says she’s here because she wants to help them.
“Lately, my son’s been asking me to help him with his math homework,” Victoria said in Spanish. “If it was in Spanish, I could help him. But in English, there are certain words I don’t understand.”
Victoria says it’s hard for her to speak English. That’s why she’s glad she’s able to practice speaking it during class. The teacher only speaks in English to the students.
“I like it a lot. At first, I was worried the class would be too advanced for me,” she said in Spanish. “But I said: ‘If I don’t try harder, I’m not going to learn.’”
Victoria’s kids are proud of her. Her 11-year-old Richard Pacheco is in the sixth grade.
“I think about my mom that she’s good at learning. She’s going to learn more in this district, and I hope she gets better at English,” he said.
Richard and his brother, Emmanuel, join their mom for her twice-a-week classes. While she’s learning English, they’re getting tutoring or participating in enrichment activities.
The district wants to make it easier for parents to take these English classes, so they’re letting parents bring children in grades pre-K to sixth grade.
In one classroom, kids are learning about different types of clouds.
“What is one that really stuck with you?” the teacher asks.
“I like the cloud that was getting squished,” a student responds.
After class, kids and parents are reunited and walk out of school together – not just practicing English, but building bonds, too.