PALMETTO — When her mother enrolled her in kindergarten at Palmetto Elementary this past school year, Spanish-speaking Natalie Barcazar needed a little extra help learning how to read.
Natalie’s mother Rita Barcazar did not speak English so she was disappointed she couldn’t help tutor her daughter.
But when she learned Natalie’s school offered free English classes to parents like her, she signed up for the bi-weekly lessons.
Every week she and dozens of other parents who do not speak English sit in front of a computer inside the school’s computer lab in the 800 block of Seventh Street West, to learn.
They use Rosetta Stone, a self-paced interactive language software program, said Sheila Halpin, the Manatee County School District parental involvement, family literacy and compliance coordinator.
“They are able to learn naturally and build continuously on what they learn each week,” Halpin said.
The program, funded by Title I parent involvement funds, was started three years ago after Palmetto Elementary School Principal Eddie Hundley got the idea during a Student Advisory Committee meeting.
“We had a strong showing of parents who expressed their desire to learn English to better help their children succeed,” said Hundley. “With the large clientele of non-English speakers, we opened it up not just to our parents but anyone in the community. They bring cousins, uncles, grandmas. It’s helping.”
The year-round classes take place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Mondays at Palmetto High and from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at Palmetto Elementary
Palmetto Elementary’s reading specialist Mercedes Bolduc heads the classes, which can see up to 25 adults each session.
“It’s working out really well,” she said.
For those families who have never used a computer before, Bolduc is there to help.
Residents can attend the classes regardless of the school their child attends in the district, she said.
The program got so popular that Palmetto High School began offering it during the 2009-10 school year. There, Manatee Technical Institute instructors also provide help to parents and offer a GED prep course, said Palmetto High Principal Willie Clark.
“They feel if they get their GED and learn English, they can help their kids do better in school,” Clark said.
On Tuesday Rita Barcazar sat inside the computer lab at Palmetto Elementary with a set of headphones on. She was learning how to give directions. Her daughter, Natalie, who enters first-grade this year, sat nearby.
“I needed English to help her with homework,” she said, during a brief break. And since she started the program, she said she is able to tutor Natalie.
Most importantly, she said, Natalie’s reading skills have improved.
For more information on the classes call (941) 723-4848, ext. 2022, or (941) 708-4971, ext. 217.