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Moms and toddlers learn English in unison

Teri Vance
tvance@nevadaappeal.com
Shannon Litz/Nevada AppealMaria Nunez listens while 15-month-old Brayan yawns during the parents and preschoolers group on Tuesday at the Boys & Girls Cubs of Western Nevada.
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Editor’s Note: The interviews with the members of the Moms Program were conducted in Spanish. The quotes in this story were translated to English by the reporter.

As a mother of six boys, ranging in age from 3 to 15, Griselda Macias is an experienced parent. But she noticed that her youngest was spending a lot of time in front of the television, and she worried he wasn’t learning what he needed to be ready for kindergarten.

So when she heard two months ago about a preschool class being offered at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Nevada, she was eager to sign him up.

What she didn’t expect was how much she was going to learn.

“It’s been beneficial to us both,” she said.

The Moms Program was created in March through Partnership Carson City’s Quality of Life Committee with the assistance of the district attorney’s Community Prevention initiative.

The program provides early childhood development classes for Hispanic children living in at-risk neighborhoods. While the children are in class, their mothers engage in a parenting course.

“Sometimes you have to reach into a community,” said Kathy Bartosz, executive director of Partnership Carson City. “You can’t always wait for a community to reach out.”

The program started out with five moms enrolled and has grown to 20 mothers and 26 kids who arrive by bus twice weekly for two-hour classes.

Michael-Ann Lazzarino of the Boys & Girls Club teaches the preschoolers basic kindergarten readiness skills, such as identifying shapes, coloring and socializing.

Maria Silis from United Latin Community, formerly Nevada Hispanic Services, teaches the parenting classes, spanning topics including breastfeeding, discipline, communication and nutrition.

“It’s important parents stay involved in their children’s lives,” Silis said. “They need to stay alert and be aware of how their children are living so they can avoid bad situations.”

Nancy Gonzalez joined as a way to socialize her 3-year-old daughter, Arleth, who is an only child. In addition to the topics covered in the class, she’s also learned from the other women in the group, many of whom have several children, even grandchildren.

“I’m just getting started with my family,” she said. “I learn different things from every one of the women. Their advice helps me be a better mom.”

Bartosz said the mission of the program is to prepare children to enter school and to expose families to the Boys & Girls Club and services available through the United Latin Community.

She said the success of the program is a result of its members.

“It really shows the heart and spirit of that community,” she said.

Juan Brena said he has noticed a difference at home since his wife, Alejandra Gutierrez, started attending the classes along with their 3-year-old daughter.

He said the communication between them as a couple has improved, as it has with their two other children, ages 13 and 9.

“I see a different attitude with my children,” he said. “We’re more united as a family. They’re good changes.”

Brena said the family’s health has also improved as result of the classes taught about nutrition and diabetes prevention.

Gutierrez said she has done it all for the sake of her children.

“More than anything, I want them to be good people,” she said. “I want them to be responsible and go on to create their own homes.”