By Mike Isaacs, Pioneer Press
Among myriad cuts called for in Gov. Bruce Rauner’s controversial budget proposal is funding for Skokie’s heralded Parent-Mentor Program, which recently completed its third year.
While no one knows exactly what will happen with the Rauner budget plan, it seems a good bet that local school districts will support keeping the program alive — even if it means funding a bit more of it themselves.
Parents, mostly from other countries, are trained to aid teachers in the classrooms of local schools four days a week. Once a week, they receive training from a Parent-Mentor coordinator.
While “win-win” is an often overused new term in today’s lexicon, the Parent-Mentor Program seems to have experienced multiple wins. Newly arrived immigrants from Niles Township have said that the program helps them assimilate better and makes them feel like valuable contributors inside the classroom.
Teachers have praised the mentors, saying that their contributions have helped free up their time for more one-on-one teaching. Some students have felt more comfortable with parent mentors and have been able to connect with an adult going through similar assimilation challenges.
“It is one of the many things on Gov. Rauner’s list of things he proposes to cut,” said District 68 Superintendent Jim Garwood. “We may face a fork in the road some time in the future. We value this program.”
Garwood’s comments came during a March 19 District 68 School Board meeting featuring an overview of the program. Likewise, some District 68 representatives recently attended a moving year-end graduation ceremony honoring the parent mentors.
The program is run out of the Niles Township School’s ELL Parent Center, which is housed in the same building as District 68 offices. ELL Parent Center Director Diana Juarez promised that Parent-Mentor Program advocates would be vocal in Springfield about making the case for continued funding.
It isn’t new, though, for Juarez and her predecessor, Corrie Wallace, to have to wait to see how the program will be funded. Following each graduation, the amount of funding has been uncertain — although a grant has always come through.
Devonshire and Madison schools, the former of District 69, the latter of District 68, were among 45 schools in Illinois to adopt the program in its first year. The program was backed by a $1 million grant from the Illinois State Board of Education with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and other community organizations.
In launching the program in this area, the ELL Center partnered with Open Communities, whose mission it is to “help north suburban Chicago residents come together to foster welcoming, inclusive and just communities.”
All schools first chosen for the program had a high number of students from low-income families. In each school, at least eight parent mentors were in classrooms (but never their children’s) for a couple of hours four days a week.
Since that first year, the program has expanded in significant ways.
In addition to Devonshire and Madison, Fairview, Meyer, Stenson, Highland, Edison and Middleton Schools have each hosted parent mentors in their classrooms — representing four school districts.
The 2014–15 program included 41 parent mentors with five coordinators helping out 43 teachers. Nearly 1,000 students had parent mentors in their classrooms.
At the District 68 meeting, several parent mentors spoke about the importance of the program, others submitted written comments.
“Being in the classroom was a very powerful experience for me,” said Donna Parker, one of the few parent mentors born in the United States. “I’ve always appreciated teachers, but being involved in the classroom every day I realize how much hard work it really is. I gained this new-found respect for teachers seeing their interaction with the students and their patience and their love for the job.”
The genesis of the Parent-Mentor Program was one in Logan Square, which was the subject of a book.
“How can low-income, non-English speaking parents become advocates, leaders and role models in their children’s schools?” Author Soo Hon asks in “A Cord of Three Strands: A New Approach To Parent Engagement in Schools.”
Her answers are “induction, integration and involvement,” the inspiration in launching the Parent-Mentor Program.
“All the parents of the community should join this,” wrote 2014–15 Parent-Mentor Abida Khan. “I was new in America. I didn’t know much, and this program helped me a lot. Now I [have] friends and I don’t feel isolated.”
Copyright © 2015, Chicago Tribune
Read more about the Parent Mentor Program on page 4 of our Spring 2015 newsletter.