BVSD’s Family Literacy Program Helps Parents Learn English and Get GEDs


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Esther Goyanes graduated from high school in her home country, Costa Rica, but wants the English equivalent.

She has two adult children, as well as a 16-month-old daughter who “photobombed” the recent GED virtual class – much to the delight of her teacher and her classmates – which she follows as part of the GED program. family literacy in the Boulder Valley School District.

“I want to go to college,” said the 43-year-old. “It is important to know the rules for speaking and writing in English.

She moved to the United States in 2016 from Costa Rica at the behest of her cousin after a bad divorce. Both her mother and ex-husband told her that she was not “good for school” and that she should focus on being a housewife and raising a family.

But in her GED class, teacher Celeste Perey-Archer recognized her dyslexia, providing her with useful study tips and helping her understand why she had already struggled in school, she said. . Her current husband, whom she married two years ago, encouraged her to get her GED.

“He said, ‘You are strong, you are smart, you can do it,'” she said. “I want to prove to myself that I can do it.”

Local parents and grandparents, mostly immigrants, are learning English and graduating from high school through the Boulder Valley School District Family Literacy Program, established 22 years ago. The program, supported by the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act and the Federal Title 1 program, is offered free of charge.

“We are here to help eradicate illiteracy and help people understand how to improve their lives and the lives of their children,” said Missy Cowan, Boulder Valley Family Literacy Program Coordinator. “We want to help them determine their goals. Don’t stop to say, “I can’t”. You can. You can continue.

Prior to the pandemic, classes were offered at all five Title 1 elementary schools in Boulder Valley, with up to 400 people enrolled each year. Babies could attend with their parents, while toddlers up to 5 years old attended concurrent early childhood classes. Older students, up to the fifth grade, received private lessons and homework support.

“Our parents showed their children that they value education,” Cowan said. “The kids worked on the homework and the parents worked on the homework. “

Classes went virtual after the start of the pandemic, with around 75 people currently enrolled.

Cowan said she was working on moving to a hybrid model, noting that some attendees preferred virtual classes because they are easier to follow. A woman continues her classes while spending time in her home country, Iran. Another was able to join the class as he visited his family in Japan during the summer.

While early childhood and homework support classes do not take place virtually, other support programs continue.

This includes putting participants in touch with community resources such as food banks and bringing in speakers from community organizations. Classes also include lessons on the expectations of the K-12 school, as well as cultural celebrations to encourage participants’ pride in their heritage and native language.

“We teach them how to find the confidence to be part of their child’s education,” Cowan said. “We teach them that they have a voice, and we want to hear it. It’s so much deeper than English classes and GED classes.

Esther Peter, 31, of Lafayette, is one of the successes of the program. A refugee from South Sudan, she and her family moved to the region in 2013.

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

Esther Peter works in her GED class in Longmont with Tonja Yelton, of Workforce Boulder County in December 2015. (File photo from Daily Camera)

It took them about a decade to make it to America, on a journey for Peter that zigzagged thousands of miles and included studies and office assistant work for the United Nations. She also had two daughters which she left with family members in Africa when she relocated here. She has not seen them since, although she is planning a reunion visit soon.

Here, she found work as a cleaner in a hotel. The first time she enrolled in a GED program, she gave up to focus on sending money to her daughters. After the birth of her son, now aged 6, she registered again.

“Thinking of my children, I have to be better for them,” she said.

She has taken GED courses through the Boulder County Workforce Program and the Boulder Valley Family Literacy Program. Family literacy teachers, she said, have become “like family to me. When I think of how far we’ve come, it’s like a miracle.

Once she graduated from her GED, she enrolled in Front Range Community College, where she graduated as an Associate in Business in 2019 and started a small restaurant business, Akilhilu Mix. Now she is in business school at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She said she was still deciding whether to continue and earn a master’s degree after graduating or focus on her work in the food industry.

She shared her story with a recent GED virtual class, urging current students to keep pushing their limits.

“There is a lot of support there,” she said. “When you start to feel sorry for yourself, ask yourself what you plan to do with your life. “

Sri Lanka-born GED student Mariathas Solomon was a babysitter in the Boulder Valley School District for 20 years before recently retiring. At 69, he said, he decided he wanted to get his GED.

With 10 siblings who grew up in Sri Lanka, he said, he was unable to continue his education or learn English as well as he wanted. He lived with his family in Switzerland for 10 years before moving to the United States at the request of his four children. He now has three grandchildren.

“The GED course is an opportunity that I didn’t have in the country where I was born,” he said. “It’s a great program. They teach us at a high level. I am thirsty to learn.

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