By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
“Miss Rosa” leads parents and students in song in a family literacy program in Long Beach.
“Let’s sing ‘Eency Weency Spider’ in English, Spanish and Hawaiian,” says teacher Rosa Hernandez to her Head Start classroom filled with excited preschoolers and parents. Inside the colorful and welcoming environment, both generations settle down for a lesson. They start by making the hand gestures for spiders.
“Miss Rosa” then reads a book aloud, asking students and parents to repeat key phrases. She’s not just telling a story; she is modeling the way parents should be reading to their children at home, says Hernandez, who belongs to the Teachers Association of Long Beach.
Hernandez firmly believes that every child’s first teacher is a parent and that family literacy is a priority. Research and results at family literacy centers throughout the country show that working with multiple generations is the best way to lift up the entire family, according to the National Conference on Family Literacy.
The Head Start class, part of the Long Beach Family Literacy Program, shares a campus with the Long Beach Adult School, and the schools collaborate to promote family learning. Youngsters spend their days with Hernandez to prepare for kindergarten. The parents are required to attend the adjacent adult school, where they take English and vocational classes, and then join their children two mornings a week.
“My goal is to prepare students for kindergarten, but it’s also to empower these families,” says Hernandez. “Sometimes when children first arrive here, their self-esteem is low. But once they start working with their parents inside the classroom, their self-esteem becomes higher and they participate more. It’s the same with parents.”
Many family members that Hernandez has worked with have gone on to find jobs they enjoy, receive promotions, and successfully complete college courses.
“The first benefit is that my 3-year-old daughter, Adrian, is learning English,” says Enma Sandoval through an interpreter. “The other benefit is that I’m learning how to become a better mother.”
When story time is over, the youngsters are told to take their parents to play stations scattered throughout the classroom. “Show your mommy what you like to do,” Hernandez says as parents are pulled by the hand in different directions. Parents and children do word puzzles, hop on letters to spell words, match letters to pictures, and engage in other activities.
“For me, it’s great, because I hardly have any time at home to do these things,” says Angie Moreno, in the midst of playing blocks with daughter Itzel, age 4. “I am usually cooking and cleaning. The time we are spending here together will change her life, and these memories will stay with her. Here, she gets to be the ‘little boss’ and tell me what to do. Miss Rosa is a wonderful teacher.”
Hernandez is also an inspiration to parents because she was once in their shoes. She arrived in the U.S. as an immigrant unable to speak English, and enrolled her child in the Head Start program. She learned English, enrolled in college and earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education.
“I was lucky because I had a lot of wonderful people support me and guide me with the right tools to help me and my child to succeed,” says Hernandez. “And I’m trying to provide all the tools and guidance these parents need to succeed. Every day I greet parents with a big smile, call each of them by name and show them respect. I give them ideas that worked for me as a parent. I let them know that to raise these children, we have to work together. And when we are learning together, learning is better.”
Possible pull quote: “The first benefit is that my 3-year-old daughter, Adrian, is learning English,” says Enma Sandoval through an interpreter. “The other benefit is that I’m learning how to become a better mother.”