The Dallas Morning News
Monday, February 9, 2004

Off to a good start

Program helps parents prepare kids for school

By Matthew Zabel / Staff Writer
Nancy Angelica Hernandez de Morales wants to help her 5-year-old daughter succeed in school, but neither of them speaks English.

"So I have my older daughter to help her with her homework and tasks for school," Morales said through a translator.

But Morales and other parents who live in the Owsley addition near the University of North Texas are learning through a weekly program that reading to their young children, even in Spanish, can help their children in school.

Karon Brown directs the program, Project Successful Start, through UNTís Velma E. Schmidt Programs for Early Childhood Education. The program provides material for parents of preschoolers to help their children succeed in school.

"Children need to be exposed to seven new books each week, and 20 new vocabulary words," Brown said.

Brown said schools expect more of children when they enter than they did a generation ago, and parents need to keep up with those new expectations.

Alberto Guzman, a masterís student in the UNT School of Community Service, leads the sessions in Spanish.

For him, the sessions help him learn about parentsí habits regarding how they raise their children, information he will use in his applied anthropology studies.

Using Brownís program, Guzman trains parents and grandparents to help their children develop language, math and creative skills. Some sessions also deal with nutrition and community resources.

On a recent Wednesday morning session, Guzman read a Spanish translation of a famous childrenís book, "The Snowy Day," by Ezra Jack Keats.

In the book, a young boy discovers snow for the first time. He learns that itís hard to walk in and fun to play in and that the snowballs melt when you take them into a warm house.

As he had each mother take turns reading passages from the book, he explained the importance of phonics, vocabulary, grammar and pragmatics. Reading books to children will help them develop in all these areas, Guzman said.

Guzman stressed the importance of reading with the proper inflections to help the children appreciate the drama in the book.

Some mothers attend; some grandmothers who are raising their grandchildren come to learn what they need to do to get their preschool children ready for school.

"We really like the way the class is taught," said Bertha Hernandez Campozano, speaking through Guzman, who translated.

They said they like the emphases on nutrition and learning and how they can teach their children.

Brown said that even though most parents who go through the Project Successful Start speak only Spanish, they must read to their children

"Language is language," Brown said. "In order to learn a new language, you have to have a pretty good mastery of your first language."

The mothers and grandmothers said watching television also helps their children learn English.

One favorite is "Dora the Explorer," a Nickelodeon cartoon in which the main character, a young girl named Dora, speaks mostly English but also a little Spanish.

"He really loves it, and that means heís understanding whatís going on," said Maria Salcedo Villalobos, grandmother of 5-year-old Leonel Reynol Silguero Composano.

The program started last fall and is in its second 10-week session, Brown said. Up to 10 parents can attend each session.

The Denton Breakfast Kiwanis sponsors the program with a $2,000 grant, said Dr. George Morrison, chairman of the Velma E. Schmidt Programs at UNT and president of the Denton Breakfast Kiwanis.

The program fits with the Kiwanis motto, "Children priority one," Morrison said.

"Children should be our first priority," he said. "If children are our nationís greatest resource, then we should be working with them when theyíre young."