A dozen or so moms gathered inside a Porter Elementary classroom for an early lesson. With laptops and headphones ready, the Spanish-speaking women studied the English language.
The free class is held from 8-10 a.m. each Friday at Porter, and similar programs are happening at other schools. Southfield Elementary hosts English lessons from 4-6 p.m. every Wednesday, and Central Georgia Technical College offers courses at its Macon, Warner Robins and Fort Valley campuses.
The two elementary schools have the most children in Bibb County’s English to Speakers of Other Languages program, said Floyd Jolley, the district’s executive director of teaching and learning. State and federal laws require ESOL services, and the adult English sessions are funded through the federal Title 3 grant program.
The classes are open to parents with children enrolled in any Bibb County school, and 10 schools are now represented. Porter had 35 participants and Southfield had 15 in the fall, with a combined 510 study hours logged by parents between September and Jan. 21.
Central Georgia Tech usually has about five classes per semester and 10 to 15 participants in each, said Brenda Brown, the school’s vice president of adult education. Participants must be 16 or older and not enrolled in public school. The college also offers citizenship and civic education courses.
Using school computers or their own devices, Bibb County parents work through English levels one through five of the Rosetta Stone program, Jolley said. Most of them speak Spanish as their primary language, but lessons in other languages are also available.
Participants read aloud and discuss the “English Easy News” publication, study the “word of the day” at wordreference.com and look at apps that their children may be using in the classroom.
“This is their school; this is their community. We want them to feel comfortable coming into the school,” said Barbara Leggett, Bibb County ESOL lead teacher. She and Sandra Hicks, also an ESOL lead teacher, provide instruction for the classes. “We encourage them to learn English but we also meet them where they are.”
The sessions at Central Georgia Tech are a combination of teacher instruction and computer work on programs such as Rosetta Stone. They focus on speaking, listening, pronunciation and word identification, Brown said. The college provides all the materials, computers and books.
“It helps individuals get acclimated to our society and helps them meet people,” she said. “They learn about other cultures in addition to the American culture, because the students come from all over the world.”
The classes give parents the chance to better themselves and become self-sufficient, said Isalina Seth, an interpreter for the Bibb County district who helps with the classes.
Danny Cobb, the mother of an 11th-grader at Rutland High School, has been taking English classes at Porter for a year. Her husband is American and speaks just a little Spanish, and the classes have helped her better communicate and socialize, she said.
Beatriz Mazariegos, who brought her 6-month-old daughter Sophia to class Jan. 27, has children in prekindergarten and fifth grade at Porter. Her husband works all day, and she started taking English classes in October so she could take care of matters on her own. She needs to be able to talk to her children and handle school situations in English, she said.
“It helps those parents have a better understanding of how things operate within our schools,” Jolley said. “The more English they can speak, the better they can communicate and have a better understanding of how their child is doing in school.”
Maria Sanchez, who has been taking classes at Porter for six months, said the most important thing is for her to be able to help her kids with their homework and activities. She has a 10th-grader at Rutland High and third- and fifth-graders at Porter.
Bibb County has more than 20 interpreters who provide translation services to families, Jolley said. The district has Spanish versions of many school documents and uses the online resource center TransAct to get paperwork in other languages, he said. In addition, a bilingual family coordinator can help parents find other resources they need.