On West Street, the __ is teaching parents the English they need to help their children with school work. Today, a kindergartener's report card might say, "Exceeds Expectations," rather than "A"—and the English phrase can cause all kinds of confusion.
"Sometimes I don't understand something," said Malitza Aquino from Veracruz, Mexico. She is taking the parents' ESL class at the Hispanic Center. She has two boys, 11 and six, and a 10-month-old daughter. "My son speaks to me in both languages. Sometimes he's a little impatient. You need to be able to talk so you can take care of your children. So they're not taking care of you."
Speaking the language can help a person survive in a country where the predominant language isn't the one you speak. Last week Danbury Patch covered an ESL class that helps day laborers get paid.
In a visit to the Emergency Room, Aquino's son had to explain to the doctor through his tears and pain about the plastic toy he'd stuffed into his ear. Aquino couldn't explain it. Aquino said her son brings home papers from school she doesn't understand. She takes her son to the Sylvan Learning Center, and gave the paperwork to the teacher there, who explains it.
Zaida Rojas, another parent in the ESL class, has children ages five and two, and her youngest is three months. She works at a hot dog shop six days a week.
"Sometimes the American Dream isn't easy," Rojas said. "I want to help my children get a good start."
On Tuesday, that meant reading Doctor Seuss aloud. The class instructor, Peg Lupton, reminded the students she'd spoken to them about rhyme in the last class, and there is no way better to hear rhyme than by reading Dr. Seuss out loud. She talked to the parents about the importance of reading to the children in English, which is a school requirement, Aquino said.
"Every day he brings me home books for me to read," Aquino said. She shakes her head and smiles, because it is tough reading English.
The Connecticut General Assembly has studied the state's Achievement Gap, and in a 2010 study of state students, it reported that for all grades on the state mastery tests for math, 63.7 percent of blacks scored at or above proficient. About 64.4 percent of Hispanic students scored at or above proficient, and 90.7 percent of whites scored at or above proficient. That gap of nearly 30 percent is the achievement gap Connecticut and other states want to close and this class aims to address.
This class aims not at the students, but at their parents. This addresses the "level playing field," concept that some people believe, that all children start school from the same place. If everyone starts at the same place, everyone has an equal chance of succeeding. Not everyone believes this.
"What we're trying to do is pick up and remove every obstacle in the road, every bump in the road toward success," said Ingrid Alvarez-DiMarzo, MA, executive director of the Hispanic Center of Greater Danbury. "If a student has to breast-feed her child, we find her a class where that is acceptable. If a 9 a.m. class is easier for working mothers than 10 a.m., we find a teacher who can be flexible."