Navajo Elementary School teaching English to students' parents

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Parents who can't speak English are handicapped in their ability to help their kids. (Source: 3TV) Parents who can't speak English are handicapped in their ability to help their kids. (Source: 3TV)

As a teacher reads a story to her class at Navajo Elementary School in Scottsdale, the students read along with pride as many of them are learning to read English for the first time. But these students are all adults.

Navajo Elementary is working to close the performance gap between English Language Learners and native English-speaking students by sending the parents to school.

"Research shows that student achievement is directly linked to parent involvement," Principal Amy Moore said. "Schools need to get creative in how we can bring parents into schools. And what better way than to actually educate these parents?"

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 42 percent of Arizona's ELLs were proficient in fourth-grade basic math, compared to 70 percent of mainstream Latinos and 89 percent of their white peers.

On the fourth-grade reading test, only 1 percent of ELLs met expectations.

The class, called "ESL for Parents," is giving parents the opportunity to lend a hand to their struggling students.

"Part of the class is pronunciation," instructor Andrea Rogers sayd. "We play games. We play Bingo. Last week we played Go Fish with the alphabet."

Educators say the success of the students in school hinges on their ability to get help outside of school. Parents who can't speak English are handicapped in their ability to help their kids.

"It comes to a point where the homework starts getting more difficult for the student and the parents can't help the student because they don't know the language," community specialist Fabiola Ordonez says.

"If they're not able to speak to the teachers, speak to me, speak to the students, it's intimidating to them," Moore agreed.

Teachers say the class is building vocabulary and confidence.

"They can look at their students' grades, and one of the instructions I give is speaking to teachers, how to talk to the students' teachers, how to feel comfortable with that," Rogers said.

The class is leading to more parental involvement at school, as well.

"The parents that have gone through the program actually volunteer in our classrooms," Moore said. "They communicate with the teachers more often. The parents are now outreaching to the teacher to find out how they can help at home and just communicate about the success of their child."

Navajo Elementary is one of a handful of schools in the Scottsdale Unified School District that offers the ESL for Parents class.

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