Empowering families through literacy: Southern Delaware school aims to strengthen bonds among Latino parents and their children

The program at Milton Elementary in Sussex County aims to improve literacy and the connection between parents and students.

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Parents pose with books in the library.

Milton Elementary School teachers took parents to get library cards and explore resources at the Milton Public Library, strengthening the school-community bond. (Courtesy of Jacqueline Wager)

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Kelin Aparición made the pivotal move from El Salvador to the United States seven years ago. Now living in Delaware, she has devoted her entire life working to provide the best quality of life for her eight-year-old son.

As a single mother, ensuring her son’s well-being meant not only offering financial stability and emotional support — something she said she never had when she was younger. It also meant recognizing a crucial aspect of a child’s development: nurturing and building a strong relationship with him.

“Me he dedicado solo a trabajar y a veces uno de padre piensa en darle nomás lo material a los hijos, pues es lo suficiente”, ella dijo. “A veces uno de padre piensa que tiene todo bajo control con sus hijos y todo. Y creen que solo por mandarlos a la escuela está como haciendo lo correcto, pero hay muchas cosas que de todo tiene que aprender uno en esta vida”.

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“I have dedicated myself to working and sometimes as a parent you think about just giving your children materialistic things, because that is more than enough,” she said. “Sometimes parents think they have everything under control with their children and everything. And they believe that just by sending them to school they are doing the right thing, but there are a lot of other things that you have to learn about in this life.”

Kelin Aparición, right, with her son, Isaac Aparición, left
Kelin Aparición is on the right, standing alongside her son, Isaac Aparición. (Courtesy of Kelin Aparición)

Like many other Latino immigrants, this involved delving into a new language. For about six months, Aparición was enrolled in English classes. But then she got a letter from her son’s school, Milton Elementary School, introducing the Bilingual Parental Engagement program — an initiative she grew particularly fond of.

“Pues de un principio me sentí muy motivada con lo que hablaban, cuando llegué me gustó. Voy a dejar de ir a mis clases y voy a venir acá [al programa], porque pues me ayuda a mí y le ayuda a mi hijo”, ella añadió. “Yo siempre he tratado la manera de buscar lo mejor para mi hijo prácticamente, pues que él se sienta mejor, porque a veces hay libros que el niño tiene que leer en la casa y pues a veces uno dice del trabajo, ‘no, pues voy cansado, espérate un momento’ y no le presta atención a eso.”

“Well, from the beginning I felt very motivated by what they were talking about, when I arrived I liked it. I’m going to stop going to my classes and I’m going to come here [the program], because it helps me and it helps my son,” she added. “I have always tried to find the best for my son practically, so that he feels better, because sometimes there are books that the child has to read at home and well, sometimes you say about work, ‘no, well I’m tired, wait a moment,’ and you don’t pay attention to that.”

The program is focused on building bridges between parents and children, said Jacqueline Wager, the multilingual learner teacher at Milton Elementary School. Recognizing a significant need within her community, particularly among parents with limited education, she drew from the success of literacy programs in other schools sourced from the Latino Family Literacy Project.

“A lot of the families have low literacy. For whatever reasons, their education was limited in their home country and some parents might have gotten no education,” she said. “However, the lion’s share of our parents don’t have strong native language literacy skills. So it makes it very difficult for them to support their children in learning their academics if their children are learning in English.”

Wager said the program aims to achieve multiple goals.

“Those goals are to improve literacy in both Spanish and English for both parents and children, goal three is to establish reading routines at home, and to strengthen the parent-child relationship,” she said.

A book with a title that reads "The Shark that taught me English"
This book is part of the literacy program, and it’s read aloud to both parents and children. (Courtesy of Jacqueline Wager)

Adding a unique touch to this program is the involvement of students from the Latino American Student Organization at Cape Henlopen High School, who provide free child care to the families. The inspiration for this initiative stemmed from high school students expressing a desire to contribute through volunteer work.

“One of the students was vice president of LASO, she says ‘Mrs Wager, do you know any teachers or projects that could use some volunteer help,’” Wager said. “So I basically solicited the help of these interested high school students to get the program launched.”

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While fall semester classes have come to an end, parents or guardians will once again meet a few times a week starting again in February. About 10 to 15 parents attend each session.

“Yo estoy muy emocionada con este programa y se lo recomiendo a cualquiera, que es muy bueno y ayuda a uno más cuando una madre está sola. Porque pues hay cosas que uno dice ‘qué hago’ y eso como que lo hace reflexionar a uno”, Aparición dijo.

“I am very excited about this program and I recommend it to anyone, it’s great and helps you,  especially for a single mother, because there are things that you say, ‘What do I do,’ and that kind of makes you reflect,” Aparición said.

In-class activities, such as playing games and reading together, have proven to be effective even beyond the classroom environment, she said. Like many others, Aparición plans to return to the program next year.

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