ELL Parent Center in Skokie begins fifth year
Paula Shapiro (right) hands Kira Zinnurova a certificate for completing the Niles Township ELL Parent Center summer pilot program, Booking With a Buddy. The center this week begins its fifth year. | Jon Durr~Sun-Times Media
NILES TOWNSHIP ELL PARENT CENTER
WHERE: 9440 Kenton Ave., Skokie (other side of District 69 administrative building)
MISSION: To serve as a resource for immigrant parents “to support them in advocating for their children’s academic achievement.”
PHONE: (847) 568-7611
Updated: November 12, 2012 1:30AM
SKOKIE — In the four years that the Niles Township English Language Learner Parent Center has existed, hundreds of families have entered and exited its doors, almost all of them feeling more confident and with a better grasp of English as they assimilate into a new place.
If anyone doubted a need for the center when it opened in 2008, they likely don’t now. This is why nine of the 10 Niles Township school districts fund the center, which helps immigrant parents of schoolchildren navigate day-to-day life in Niles Township.
Corrie Wallace, the center’s popular director, has been open to new ideas and pilot programs that advance the center’s main objectives: English literacy so that parents can effectively communicate; access to community resources so that parents can support raising healthy children; and parent education so that parents themselves can model lifelong learning.
“You can see an impact almost instantly here,” Wallace said.
Earlier this month, families finished the summer’s pilot ELL Booking With a Buddy program, a joint initiative by the ELL Parent Center and the Skokie Public Library. The program was a success by all accounts, a spin-off of sorts from the library’s own Booking With a Buddy program, which has been offered to children for years.
But in this version, parents and children were paired in reading. And many of the program mentors had been English-language learners themselves.
In eight weeks, the progress of participants was profound, families and organizers say, and it’s likely to be offered again next summer.
Rogelio and Noelia Cardenas, of Skokie, know the importance of the tucked-away ELL Parent Center.
Noelia moved from Mexico to join her husband here not knowing English. Rogelio persuaded his wife to attend the ELL Parent Center and two years later she was able to converse and get along fine.
“I don’t even have the words to describe how important this center has been to us,” Rogelio said. “My wife didn’t speak one single word in English and as soon as she started coming here, it helped. Corrie reached out and made such a difference.”
Lorena Martinez, of Morton Grove, also came from Mexico nine years ago. She said the Booking With a Buddy program allowed her to “practice English more and to be with my children.” Domerica Patino, of Skokie, also says she and her kids “definitely learned a lot” from the program.
Though new, Booking With a Buddy fit right in with the center’s mission. It advanced English learning, of course, and it also felt inclusive and welcoming to those wanting to volunteer or participate.
College students Matthew Nelson, 20, of Northbrook, and Julia Sheppard, 19, of Skokie and Wilmette, heard great things about the center so they volunteered this summer. They said the experience met high expectations.
Serving Skokie, Lincolnwood, Niles and Morton Grove, the ELL Parent Center has helped well over 700 families, Wallace estimates.
She thought that after four years, there might be a leveling out of new families from other counties, but the influx has remained strong.
Demographics over the past decade have shown that Niles Township has become home to the largest growing population of immigrants and refugees in the Chicago area. About 100 different languages are spoken in Niles Township homes.
The center was to offer its first class of the school year this week, intensive English, as a kickoff to its fifth year. Other programs will be rolled out in coming weeks.
On the schedule are offerings in computers, English fluency including family literacy, a social conversation class called “Tea-n-Talk,” “Encuentro Cultural” in which families celebrate speaking Spanish and literacy, and ‘‘Reading For Healthy Families,” which provides health information while strengthening English skills.
“The feedback I’ve gotten over the years is that people love learning here,” Wallace said.
No one celebrating the end of another successful pilot program this month at the center would disagree.