‘Be involved in everything’

Program works with families to strengthen reading, language skills

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After 24 weeks of hard work, graduates of a new family learning program run by Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island (DIIRI) walked across stage and celebrated their achievement at the Cranston Portuguese Club last Thursday evening.

The program, named Toyota Family Learning (TFL), works to improve the reading and language skills of entire families, strengthen parent-child relationships and involve participants in their community. It was created by the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL), and is run locally by DIIRI.

“I would say for many of the parents and families, the big motivator is their children. I think that it’s not just a straight ESL class, but they have the opportunity to work on their own education, and they also have the opportunity to work with their children and gain some confidence in them,” said Julie Piccolo, director of family literacy at DIIRI.

While DIIRI has worked in the family literacy field for years, the TFL program is new. Earlier this year, Toyota granted DIIRI a three-year, $175,000 grant to start the program – one of only five such grants awarded in the country.

In the program, first-generation immigrant parents and their children attend classes together, complete homework assignments, participate in community service and engage in family-to-family mentoring.

Sharon Darling, president and founder of the NCFL, spoke to the families at the event.

“Everywhere you go, there are learning opportunities, and you know that now – and that’s going to make a huge difference,” she said. “The model that you’re giving your children by coming back to school is something they’ll carry with them forever. It will have a profound impact on their education.”

According to the Census Bureau, nearly half the families in Providence speak a language other than English at home, and the poverty rate for those families is more than double that of the rest of Rhode Island. DIRRI hopes its new program will help to bridge the educational and economic gaps – and participants share in their enthusiasm.

“I don’t want to say goodbye without telling parents and guardians that, if you want your child to be excellent in the future, you have to start now. This is the best education you can give – to be part of the school, help with homework, talk with teachers, and be involved in everything,” said graduate Joselina Reyes.

After a performance of “This Land is Your Land” by the children of graduating families and several speeches – in English – from program participants, the graduates walked across stage and received a certificate, a trophy, and a Family Time Kit that provides educational exercises linked to TFL’s website.

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