Polytech Adult Education has been offering a Family Literacy Program for adults at the Reformation Lutheran Church for 20 years, but the program had outgrown the location. The program is designed for families for whom English was not their first language. Polytech reached out to Milford School District who opened Lulu Ross Elementary School for the program.
“We thought Ross would be the best location because it has a fairly large English as a Second Language population, many of whom live close enough to the school they could walk,” Bridget Amory, Director of Elementary Education for Milford School District, said. “Because we have more room than they had at the church, Polytech was also able to add a GED program as well.”
The program is designed for families with adults whose native language is not English as well as for their children. Although the program is offered at Ross, there are families in the program that attend other district schools and some live in Cape Henlopen School District. Maryanne Grau of Polytech Adult Education said that the program is designed not only to help adults learn English, but also to help their children with additional learning time as well as develop engagement between parents and students.
“The classes are held Monday and Wednesday from 6 to 8:30 PM,” Ms. Grau said. “For the first 15 minutes they are here, they spend time in the cafeteria doing activities with their children, all of which are designed to help them apply the language skills they are using and to build engagement with the children in the use of language. It also shows them appropriate games to play at home with the children to help the adults learn and to improve skills in the children.”
Ms. Grau said that the majority of the families are Hispanic, but there are also many who speak Creole. There is no cost to the families for the program which is paid for through grants. Ms. Grau said that even though they now have more room for the program, there is still a waiting list of 40 people. All students who complete the language program are offered the opportunity to take the GED program, but it is not required.
“One of the reasons we require the family to participate is that we know that improving literacy improves grades,” Ms. Grau said. “We break the children’s groups into grade levels and we base what assistance we give them on what the school suggests will help. Teachers know that the students are in this program so they can help us tailor what we do during the program so the child gets some additional help. What we try to do is help them learn using games so it is more like fun than actual learning.”
Participants must also complete reading logs and must provide library receipts showing they have used the local library. At least one night every other month, the program meets at the library to encourage the participants to use the library for reading. They must read five times per week for 15 minutes, either reading to the children or having the child read to them. Children must be up-to-date on immunizations and, if they are in school, must submit report cards.
“It is very interesting to see the kids coming in with their parents,” Ms. Amory said. “They feel as if this is their turf and are so proud to bring their parents in to the school. It is actually rewarding to see them as they learn and grow together.” Teachers require students to speak English at all times in the classroom. Most of those who attend have been in the program for one or two years. There are 75 adults and 55 children registered.
In addition to English, adults are provided lessons in civics in order to prepare them for possible citizenship, employability skills, such as resume writing and interview tips as well as digital literacy, such as how to complete an online job application or how to use a computer. A financial empowerment component, Stand By Me, provides the adults with financial tips and advice.
“Many of these people are taken advantage of because of their language issues,” Ms. Grau said. “They fall victim to predatory loans very easily. This gives them some help understanding finances in this country, including how to create a budget. They are even provided assistance clearing items on their credit report so that they can purchase a home or just get ahead in life.”
Ms. Grau said that the program is also offered at the Lincoln United Methodist Church on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 9 to Noon. Polytech also has a partnership with Perdue, offering ESL classes to Perdue employees who qualify.