SALT LAKE CITY — For many parents who speak English as a second language, or speak little or no English at all, getting involved in their child's education is difficult.
But one program is tackling the problem one parent at a time.
The Empowering Parents program gives parents access to English instruction through their child's school, offering both day and evening classes.
"The main goal is for the parents to feel comfortable enough in the schools that they feel like they can be involved," said Sarah Flanigan, the Empowering Parents program coordinator.
In small class settings, these parents learn English and other basic things like how to read report cards, excuse their child from school and join the PTA.
"We do some role plays with what a parent-teacher conference would be like," explained Flanigan. "One of the goals of some of our students is to do their parent-teacher conferences in English without an interpreter, and so that's really exciting when they're able to do that."
Every day, Maria Lopez drops her son off at school. But twice a week, she stays at Glendale Middle School to attend classes of her own. Her main goal right now is to be able to help her son with his homework.
"The homework is English," she said. "He has a question for me on the homework. It's hard."
Studies show that children whose parents learn English do better in school, according to the English Skills Learning Center, which runs the Empowering Parents program. University of Utah instructor Karen Marsh defended her master's thesis on the topic, and she says this program works.
"It fills a need that the parents have," she said. "The parents want to help their child be successful, but they don't know how."
She said the program brings the parents into the schools and gives them the English they need. Through the parents' participation in the program, the children's grades improved.
And it's not just the children who benefit. Schools also see a reward when parents are more involved.
"Schools are always trying to get the parents involved, and this is really a simple way to solve a couple of needs," Marsh said.
She says parents come away from the program being able to do three key things that make all the difference:
Learn English, especially vocabulary often used in school settings.
Be able to read to their children at least 20 minutes a day.
Learn to communicate with the school to see how their child is doing.
"It's no longer this crazy thing to walk into the school," Marsh said. "They become familiar with people at the school. They can say 'Hi' to people in the office and they start to become involved."
Lopez will complete her classes at the end of the school year, but she hopes these lessons will last much longer.
The Empowering Parents program is open to any parents or guardians who need help, and they can join anytime throughout the school year. The program is offered at 11 schools throughout the Salt Lake Valley. For more information go to www.eslcenter.org/programs/empowering-parents.