Saturday, December 19, 2009

Classroom on Wheels visits Bonita migrant camp to help parents connect with schools

Classroom on Wheels visits Bonita migrant camp to help parents connect with schools

Thursday, December 17, 2009

In Bonita Springs on Thursday, “C” was letter of the day.

On this particular day, it stood for connection and classroom, COW and camp.

Teachers and administrators from Pinewoods Elementary School in Estero used their Classroom on Wheels, or COW, to connect parents at Saldivar Migrant Camp with their kids’ educations. With a small army of bilingual teachers, they reached out to parents in the camp to discuss ways they can improve their children’s literacy and study habits, and foster a better environment for learning in their homes.

“Sometimes, the parents, it’s better to reach them where they’re more comfortable,” said Emilia Berni, Title I Migrant Coordinator for the Lee County School District.

Saldivar was identified as an area of great need because it was hard-hit last year by flooding in the wake of Hurricane Fay — many families in the camp do not have their own transportation. The COW, a retrofitted school bus equipped with computers, wireless internet and learning materials, was designed to reach parents like these. They are engaged in their children’s education, teachers say, but simply cannot make it to their children’s schools for parent-teacher conferences.

“It allows the parents to be involved when they otherwise would not be able to,” said Amy Stephenson, a fifth-grade teacher at Pinewoods Elementary School. “We teach them instructional strategies to help their children at home, even if they don’t speak English.”

Led by Vice Principal Gina DeMarchena, a group encouraged parents to get library cards and check out as many books as their children can read. They told parents to encourage children to read from cereal boxes, potato chip bags, magazines — anything sitting around their homes with everyday words on them.

They held up books, discussing appropriate books for different age groups, and talked about the importance of children being able to read a certain number of words per minute.

The COW, an idea borrowed from other districts, debuted last year at Pinewoods, soon after its fresh coat of paint — black and white spots like a Holstein cow — had dried. Thursday’s event was the COW’s first foray into a migrant camp.

“This is a good opportunity for them to get more informed,” said Brenda Flores, vice president of the migrant program and the mother of a 5-year-old boy at Pinewoods Elementary.

Teachers fanned out across the grass with activities for the children.

Scott Brito and his sister, Allison Brito, participated in a reader’s theater, taking turns reading a poem titled “The butterfly and the Frog.”

Scott, 7, said his favorite thing about reading is the pictures, but as he read off of a paper filled with words alone, he sounded confident.

His mother, Patricia Brito, said through a translator she has trouble getting Scott to read. His older brother, Michael, 9, loves reading, she said.

“He doesn’t want to read,” Flores said, translating for Brito. “She wants to teach him to read more.”

His reading, she said, has improved significantly thanks to a tutoring program offered to migrant children, funded with federal grant money, at schools in the district. Her children attend Bonita Springs Elementary School.

“We’re really pleased,” said Carlin, “because we’re able to serve more than just our Pinewoods families, and really get into South Lee County.”

Connect with education reporter Leslie Williams Hale at

© 2009 Scripps Newspaper Group — Online

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