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Moms take classes in how to help kids in school

  • Story Highlights
  • Students' mothers are taught in Spanish at suburban Washington school
  • They're taught to read report cards, play math games
  • Parent-teacher conferences are also explained to mothers
  • The classes are an effort to help children learn by getting moms involved
From Sally Holland
CNN
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ARLINGTON, Virginia (CNN) -- Some mothers in suburban Washington are spending time in special classes to learn things like how how to read a report card and how to motivate their children to get the most out of their education.

The mothers learn basic computer skills so they can check their child's progress on the school's Web site.

The mothers learn basic computer skills so they can check their child's progress on the school's Web site.

Every Wednesday, this small group of Latina mothers doesn't just drop off children at the door of Randolph Elementary School, but instead the women enter the school for a cup of coffee and classwork of their own.

The goal of the classes is to help the women achieve what President Obama thinks should be the norm: parents actively engaging in their children's education.

"Teachers, no matter how dedicated or effective, cannot make sure your children leave for school on time and do their homework when they get back at night. These are things only a parent can do. These are things that our parents must do," the president said in a speech before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in March.

During his first 100 days in office, Obama has often touted the need for parental involvement. But it's hard to get parents more involved when they don't speak English and don't understand how the U.S. education system works. Video Watch what moms are learning »

U.S. Census Bureau numbers from 2007 show 20 percent of people over 5 years old spoke a language other than English at home, and 44 percent of those said they did not speak English "very well."

At Randolph Elementary, Principal Renee Bostick estimates three-quarters of the students' families speak English as a second language.

That's where the Wednesday Morning Moms group comes in. The mothers are taught in Spanish, their native language. Among the things the women learn are how to read a report card and play math games to help their children with basic math skills -- all aimed at helping their children keep up in classes.

The women are also given access to the school's computer lab so they can look at Web sites the kids use in learning.

Each mother gets passwords to the sites so she can check her child's progress. The women are encouraged to sit next to their children and push them "to do more, or practice in math or practice reading, practice for the S.O.L. [Standards of Learning tests]," says program organizer Jackie Garcia.

At one recent meeting, the moms discussed the parent-teacher conferences coming up later that week. In the mothers' native countries, most schools don't have parent-teacher conferences, so Garcia walked them through exactly what to expect at the meetings.

At home in the evening, mom Gilda Ballejos tried to help her children with their homework around the kitchen table in Arlington, Virginia. The Bolivian native spoke little English as she coached the children in science and math.

Ballejos says she's learned a lot from the moms group, things like putting more emphasis on motivating her children rather than punishing them. She has also learned how to monitor her children's progress in school to make sure they are on a path to success.

Bostick says one goal is to get the parents used to coming to the school.

"We're constantly working at making sure our parents feel comfortable in the school and also want to get involved in the school," she said.

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In the long term, it pays off. "Our parents have become involved in other activities that we call for -- when we do a call for volunteers. And they will come forward and help."

Her ultimate goal: to make parents feel welcome in the school. "No matter what language you speak, when you send your child to school, your hopes and expectations are that the school do the very best for your child."

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