El Verano School brings families to the fold

A valuable ‘Resource’

The La Luz Family Resource Center is located in Room 31 at El Verano Community School, 18606 Riverside Drive. 935-6025. For more information about services offered or volunteer opportunities contact Betzy Chavez or Mario Castillo.

The La Luz Family Resource Center at El Verano Elementary School shows that when two forces of community service join together the results can be a real asset to those they serve.

Less than a year ago, the Family Resource Center opened on the campus in Room 31 and now its benefits are starting to show.

Launched to help El Verano parents increase their involvement in their children’s education, the center now offers English language and computer classes, nutrition and gardening lessons, yoga and Zumba – and even citizenship classes that have resulted in five parents becoming citizens.

Twelve mothers recently graduated from a 10-week Latino Family Literacy class that taught them how to read to their kids and make reading a daily routine at home. They used bilingual books, getting into the practice of asking their kids, “What do you think will happen next?” and “Do you know what this word means?” At the final class the mothers were showing off thick scrapbook binders full of leaning tools they’d made including alphabets, shapes and colors, words with illustrations and number flashcards to use with their kids. “My favorite day of the week is when I come to this class,” one mother recently said.

The class is not only a place to learn, but also a place where mothers have formed friendships that provide a support network.

“They each bring food to share, and treat themselves to a nice meal afterward,” said Betzy Chavez, the director of the Family Resource Center.

Literacy is the main priority at El Verano, where 80 percent of the students are Latino and 70 percent are English-language learners.

“We want all of our students to be great readers and writers. That is the skill we focus on,” said Principal Maite Iturri, adding that all other learning springs from a strong ability to read.

The Family Resource Center is run by La Luz in collaboration with the elementary school, which has transitioned from a traditional elementary school to a “community school,” with an emphasis on serving families, not just children. Open from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., there is a pre-kindergarten and kindergarten and, “A strong focus on early education,” Iturri said. “And there’s a men’s basketball group that plays here three nights a week, and when there was a hole in a wall that needed to be repaired, they stepped up and fixed it.”

At the Family Resource Center there is a wealth of information, from study guides from the Department of Motor Vehicles to application information for the Cal Fresh nutrition program. Psychological services are offered, including a weekly mental support group conducted by a psychiatrist. Computers and online access are available, and there is childcare for preschoolers while parents attend classes.

“We tried to make the center very cozy, very home-like,” said Chavez, who brings in fresh flower bouquets from her family’s garden. The Family Resource Center is funded by a grant from S.H. Cowell Foundation.

“Having the Family Resource Center here allows me to focus on the classrooms,” Iturri said. She said when parents come to her with housing, mental health or other domestic problems she now has a place right at the school to send them for help.

“This is not charity,” said Juan Hernandez, the executive director of La Luz. “This is systemic change for the benefit and well being of everyone as we look toward the future. It starts here at this level.”

A valuable ‘Resource’

The La Luz Family Resource Center is located in Room 31 at El Verano Community School, 18606 Riverside Drive. 935-6025. For more information about services offered or volunteer opportunities contact Betzy Chavez or Mario Castillo.

Chavez points out that the parents who start out by taking a class, often progress to being active volunteers at the school. “We had a really shy mom who started out saying she wanted to take it slow. Now she is everywhere, volunteering in the classroom and helping out anyway she can.” Parents who take the nutrition class will then be the leader the next time the class is offered.

“We are always developing new programs depending on the needs we see,” Chavez said. She said one program that was very successful was “Talking Together,” a once-a-week class that brought the mothers of preschoolers together and taught them how to develop early language skills for their children.

There is also an Elder Salon held at the Family Resource Center, which is a discussion group for senior citizens. Although they did not have any prior connection to the school, four members of the salon sessions now volunteer as after-school tutors, entirely because being on the campus sparked their interest in helping the children.

Ultimately, the El Verano School and the La Luz Family Resource Center are hoping to make a positive impact that paves the way for better education at home and at school – and even enhances the neighborhood, the Valley and perhaps society at large.