“This is my favorite night of the week,” said Alicia Manguso, Brewster Schools K-12 English as a New Language (ENL) Specialist.
She was not talking about pizza night or a night for favorite TV. Instead, Manguso was referring to the weekly Parent University meeting she runs via Zoom with Brewster High School Assistant Principal Carlos Rodriguez. The meetings, which are in Spanish, are part of a K-12 initiative that works to engage bilingual parents in Brewster Central School District. To date, they have been well attended and an excellent vehicle for community building.
“We created a Parent University tailored specifically to the needs of this community to lift parents up during a very challenging time,” Manguso said. “Our hope is that this program continues to support our bilingual families well into the future.”
At the start of this school year, it was clear that the district’s bilingual community needed support in areas such as social emotional health, the use of technology, academics, and public health awareness. This knowledge spurred the creation of the Parent University curriculum.
The meetings run on a six-week cycle, with each week dedicated to a specific topic and a final session dedicated to reflection and comments for future sessions.
The presentations have been a community affair. District social workers, teachers and technology specialists have all shared valuable information on everything from social emotional learning, navigating Google Classroom to parents’ rights. The broader community has also shown support, with the Putnam County Department of Health presenting on protecting yourself from COVID-19 and local community organizations like the Brewster Public Library, Putnam CAP and Catholic Charities sharing their own important information.
“Now many of our parents are enrolled in an English as a Second Language class at the library,” Manguso said.
Parents have been very happy with the experience so far.
“Before this program, I did not feel like part of the school,” said Dulce Rodriguez through a translator. Rodriguez’s daughters attend CV Starr Intermediate and Brewster High School. Language had been a big barrier for her and she found herself unsure of how to help in her daughters’ education. “Now I feel like a part of the school because of the Parent University classes.”
This was one of the key goals of the initiative.
“Brewster benefits from Parent University because it’s about educating parents to ensure student success,” said Brewster High School Assistant Principal Carlos Rodriguez. “We feel that, in time, it will raise academic achievement, decrease social emotional issues and create a stronger community bond.”
“Our purpose is to create a safe space for our bilingual families where they can feel empowered by learning new information that can help them better support their children, to ask questions, and to build community within themselves as parents,” she said. “We believe that these sessions can help build a better Brewster by building a bond of trust and support between families, community and our school district.“
Parents have come away from the sessions feeling empowered.
“It has become an information hub for parents who need clarification or help,” said Carlos Rodriguez.
Sandra Romero, who has children at both JFK Elementary School and CV Starr Intermediate, said it really helps to have a community.
“To hear that other parents are going through the same struggles during this pandemic and to know that I am not the only one going through it is so helpful,” Romero said.
Juana Yessenia Juarez and Edna Perez Y Perez, both mothers of students in the district, noted that the meetings help them stay informed. “Parent University is helpful for the children, parents and school because we are a team of three.” Perez Y Perez said.
This feeling of community is exactly what Parent University strives to achieve.
“This important work is necessary so that we can see one of our most marginalized populations be successful,” Manguso said. “There is countless research that says engaging the parents is the first step, and that is what we are doing with Parent University.”