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Empowering Parents: Teaching Parents, Reaching Children

On Thursday mornings at 10:30 a.m., thirteen women gather via Zoom to participate in Reading Together class, offered through Literacy for Life's Empowering Parents Program. The learners are immigrants from an array of nine countries (Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, China, El Salvador, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Syria, and Turkey). Despite differences in language and culture, they share much in common. They are mothers or grandmothers of children from infants to age 10, and they are eager to improve their own English language skills, to learn about American culture through classic books, and to set up their children for success.

"We are immigrants and don't know much about America," says Empowering Parents learner Leila, from Morocco. "In the Reading Together class we learn so many things about English, like vocabulary and pronunciation, but also so many things about American culture." In the class, instructor Ellen Plaskon facilitates read-aloud, vocabulary, and comprehension activities--all in the context of sharing books that are cornerstones of American culture. Titles include beloved classics such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Ferdinand the Bull, and The Giving Tree.

"Many parents think about reading with kids as a way to help them gain vocabulary and do well in school," says Ellen, "but in the class we also talk about fostering a love of reading and using reading to bond with our children." Leila agrees. "My children are 2 and 3 years old," she says. "We love to all read together. They especially love the pictures. We look at the pictures and share the story in English and also in our language. They learn so much and will be more ready for kindergarten." Ellen thoroughly enjoys teaching the Reading Together class. As a mother herself, she learns and benefits along with her students. "Reading Together has fostered a supportive community of parents," she says. "We all enjoy laughing and sighing about the joys and trials of parenting. I've learned a lot from my students about the parenting challenges we all share, and those that are unique to multilingual families." Each Reading Together student receives a free copy of each book to build their children's libraries. Leila is grateful to have such beautiful books in her home. "We have so much technology today in our culture, always with phones and tablets," she observes. "It's so important that we keep our relationship with books."

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