Florence Phillips: Amend bill to allow ESL programs to receive funding

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The Nevada Legislature is currently working on a bill whose main purpose is to improve early childhood education, and in particular, pupils whose primary language is not English. I refer to SB126, which amends NRS 388.407, Section 3 (d) and (e), and is now in the Assembly. One of the sub-purposes is to provide the children’s parents with information regarding programs designed to improve their own English language skills. The ESL in-Home Program, a no-cost-to-student nonprofit program, can certainly help in this regard.

Since its inception in 2004, the ESL In-Home Program of Northern Nevada has helped more than 3,800 adult immigrant parents and grandparents of school children with their English language skills. They are now helping their children with homework and school activities, communicating with teachers and medical personnel without interpreters, finding jobs, obtaining their GEDs, shopping in stores whose staff are English speakers, becoming U.S. citizens, and enrolling in higher education.

The only way to create a truly literate community is to include goals associated with underserved adult students and the literacy programs that serve them. Adult illiteracy cannot be seen as a singular social problem in isolation from children’s literacy. Most “emergent literacy” emphasizes the familial dimensions of early literacy and underscores the connections between child and adult literacy, regarding learning, skill levels, and practices.

Education data indicates the following:

Children whose parents reported literacy difficulties had a 72 percent chance of being in the lowest reading level in school tests (compared to 25 percent of children in the lowest reading level overall).

Low-skilled parents tend to have lower expectations and aspirations regarding education for themselves and their children.

Low-skilled parents cannot read to their children, nor encourage a love of learning. When low-skilled adults improve their literacy skills, this impacts the literacy of their children. With these new skills, they can help a child with homework, read notes sent home from school, understand the school system their children engage in, and guide and encourage them.

Children of parents who are not involved in their education are more likely to display behavioral problems, get poor grades, have a high-absentee rate, repeat school years, or drop out of school.

Children of parents who had not completed high school scored lower in vocabulary assessments than children of parents with a high school degree or equivalent.

Parents with a high school diploma or high school equivalency certificate engage more in early childhood education activities with their children.

Both literate and non-literate parents believe strongly in education for their children, although literate parents are more likely to support their children in practical ways, such as meeting teachers and discussing progress with children.

Data is from “Connections between Child and Adult Literacy, Regarding Learning, Skill Levels and Practices,” Mastin Prinsloo, 2005; “The Economic & Social Cost of Illiteracy: A Snapshot of Literacy and Its Causes in the UK and a Global Context,” World Literacy Foundation, 2012; “The Social Benefits of Literacy,” Anna Robinson-Pant, 2005; National Institutes of Health, 2010; National Center for Education Statistics, 2003.

In general, research finds parents actively work to support their children’s literacy even when their own years of school education are limited.

Home literacy practices blended with literacy practices in schools create collaborative literacy practices rooted in a culture or neighborhood. Literacy courses introduce parents to ways of helping children in school and the school curriculum, resulting in greater social benefits.

The ESL In-Home Program has proven success, with adult immigrants being tutored in its classes of ESL, workplace communication, English conversation, GED preparation and U.S. citizenship study — all at no cost to the student. There are 182 adult immigrants who have gone through our program and are now U.S. citizens. In addition, we have 51 adults who are now ready to take the exam but lack the fee of $680 to apply; 44 are currently in our citizenship study classes.

There are more than 600 adults who are anxious to learn English and ultimately receive their GED and work toward becoming U.S. citizens on our wait list. We have community volunteer tutors ready to teach. We would like to start 250 immigrant adults from our wait list, but we are in need of funds to purchase the instructional material. Our current funding comes from individual donations and some corporations that support our program. I would be happy to supply our IRS determination letter approving a nonprofit status for our program as well as financial statements and our budget upon request.

In this regard, I have met with many Senators and Assembly members requesting an amendment be made to the bill to have the ESL In-Home Program of Northern Nevada and similar literacy programs listed to receive funds, allowing the opportunity for parents to become proficient in English language skills.

Florence G. Phillips is the executive director of ESL In-Home Program of Northern Nevada in Carson, Douglas, Lyon, Churchill and Washoe counties. She can be reached at 775-888-2021.


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