Program utilizes volunteers to bridge language gap, help students achieve their college dreams

The pilot program is aimed at teaching parents of English learners key information to help their students get to college.
WHITTIER, Calif. (KABC) -- Applying for college is tough enough; imagine doing it when English isn't your first language. One program utilizes volunteers to help bridge the language gap, and help
students achieve their college dreams.

The pilot program, "Padres Promotores del Camino al Exito Universitario" is aimed at teaching parents of English learners key information to help their students get to college. Jose and Yolanda Barrera took the online Zoom sessions offered by the Whittier Union High School district.

"It was not easy, you know, being an immigrant from Mexico both myself and my wife that was our goal, you know, put our kids to college," said Jose Barrera. "Believe me it's a full time job."

It's a job that is not easy for many families who don't speak English at home. Their EL students often struggle to become proficient enough to access higher learning. Whittier Union is working to change that.

Nine percent of the roughly 11,000 students in the district are English learners, 89% are Spanish speakers and 71% are socioeconomically disadvantaged. This new program is tailored specifically for the parents of these students.

"So that is the root of the problem, that we have a group of students that regardless of our efforts in education, are not proficient enough to be able to succeed in their academic courses," said Francisco Meza, Whittier Union High School District.

The EL support programs director says it's crucial for schools and parents to work together to help students transition out of the EL program by demonstrating academic language proficiency.

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"We also want them to understand the system, the high school system, how to graduate, what courses are required for graduation, how to apply for a college or university, making sure they know how to monitor their students' progress while in high school, that they know where resources are available on campus, who to speak to if they ever need anything," said Elba Solis, EL Parent Counselor.
And here's the kicker: The program educates and trains these parents to become mentors and share their knowledge with other parents.

"I love it. I think it's such a great idea especially right now during the pandemic. Parents are going crazy, researching how to help their teenagers to overcome this, plus we have our problems as an adult, so this program is just wonderful," said Diana Vargas, Parent Mentor.

And the program acts as an empowering personal experience for the parents, too.

"A lot of these parents didn't know how to use the computer, didn't know how to open it, and so for them to actually create videos and presentations has been a really big deal," said Solis.

"It's a process but what we learn in this particular program is that the voice of the parents count," said Barrera.

There are now 11 trained Parent Mentors. The next group is scheduled for this August. The program's creators hope other school districts will follow in their footsteps.

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