July 31, 2013

By Margaret Coates

Escuela de la Familia, a program of the Durham Literacy Center, is held in a small church in North Durham. Fifteen mothers sit around a school table, talking quickly. As class begins, the conversation changes from Spanish to English. Today, the mothers learn how to give directions in English.

Maria del Rocio Mezo, one of the mothers who attend weekly English classes through Escuela de la Familia, joined the program because she recognized the need to learn English.

“The class has been very useful to me,” she said. Instruction focuses on English subjects that are applicable to everyday life, and Maria now displays mastery of many English concepts.

While Maria and the other mothers attend English classes and life skills and parenting workshops, provided by the Durham Literacy Center, their children receive free childcare and participate in school readiness activities sponsored by the Family Center of Northern Durham.

Because of the overwhelming local demand for Escuela de la Familia, there is a waitlist to enroll in the program.

“The Escuela program is enormously important because it combines a focus on inter-generational education and literacy with a powerful sense of community,” said Daniel Lawrence, the program coordinator.

To foster this sense of community, each day begins with the “Circle of Parents,” a discussion in which the mothers can talk in Spanish about parenting and other relevant themes.

“They have become a close-knit group that acts as an emotional support network in matters of English studies and parenting,” Lawrence said. “The program seeks to break the cycle of family illiteracy, promote readiness, and get parents more involved in their children’s education earlier.”

Mothers and their children participate in Parent and Children Together (PACT) activities, aimed at fostering connections and communication between the mothers and their children.

Mothers also attend workshops in areas relevant to their lives. Past workshops have included instruction in finance, the library system, healthy cooking, and computer literacy. In the coming month, mothers will have a chance to discuss and learn about immigration rights.

The proof of Escuela de la Familia’s success is found in the profound impact that is makes in its participants’ lives.

“When I started the class, I knew no English and the teacher would explain to me in Spanish,” Maria said. “Now I understand.”

The Durham Literacy Center’s Escuela de la Familia program received a grant from the campaign’s Community Care Fund.

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