Alejandra: Reading Benefits the Family
“Okay, mommy. I understand now because you helped me. When you help me, I understand everything.” Eleven year old Jose looked up at his mother with gratitude and love. Her help was critical to his being able to learn. But it wasn’t always this easy for Alejandra.
Alejandra first arrived in the states ten years ago, from Puebla, Mexico. She initially settled in California, but soon relocated her family to New York. Unlike her home on the west coast, her New York neighborhood was not rich with native Spanish speakers. Because of this, she knew learning English was the only way she would be able to access the opportunities necessary to raise her family.
The choice, itself, was not a difficult one. Her children – Jose, nine-year-old Vanessa, and one-year-old Amy- speak very little Spanish, and so not only was this knowledge critical for settling into her community, but also for communicating with her own children. The execution, though, was quite challenging. Even when she tried to speak English, she noticed people didn’t understand her. She wasn’t able to express her needs properly in this new language. Luckily, finding a Literacy Partners flyer at Grand Street Settlement was able to change all that.
Now, Alejandra reads with each of her children, one-on-one, every single day. Jose is a fan of the magical Harry Potter, while Vanessa prefers the impish Curious George, and Dr. Seuss is Alejandra’s go-to for her youngest.
The family’s daily reading has certainly helped Vanessa, as before Alejandra was able to help her with homework, Vanessa failed her state reading test, and was on the verge of being held back a grade in school. Thankfully, with Alejandra’s new-found skill set, she was able to work directly with Vanessa’s teachers (in English) to come up with a strategy to help her daughter. Just four months later, Vanessa confidently reads both from her tablet and from books, and has since passed the NYS reading exam.
Jose was already a strong reader, but asks his mother for help with his math homework. Alejandra is able to pull from the tactics her teachers used with her, so that he doesn’t find himself overwhelmed when he’s stumped by a problem. She says, “I tell him to read it one more time with me, to relax, and that we will read together until we understand the question. I’m here.”
But it’s not all homework in Alejandra’s family, and she relies on her children to continue working with her on her language skills. The movies they watch together are all in English, and Alejandra even brings up, “Everything we do together is mostly in English, and my kids teach me.”
Her dream is to have a good future, more opportunities, a good job, to finish school, and have a house for herself and her children. Thanks to her English classes, she is well on her way to success. At a recent interview in a child support office, Alejandra, out of habit, asked for a translator. When the translator arrived, both her and the translator realized that she didn’t need one after all– her English was good enough that she could stand on her own.