"We found there was a need in the community and with some of the parents in our program," said Rita Mendez, supervisor of the Early Childhood Center. "[The program was created] to enhance the literature skills in their native language."
As part of the programming offered by the Early Childhood Center, parent training sessions are held once a month for all the parents in the program. The training sessions are meetings where parents are invited to state their concerns or topics they would like discussed in regards to the Early Childhood Program. It was through these meetings that the desire for improvement in Spanish literacy skills was addressed.
"It's an opportunity for the parents of the children who are participating in the [Early Childhood] program," Mendez said.
Mendez, along with Maria Rojas, parent coordinator specialist for the Early Childhood Center, began to establish the literacy program for the parents in the school community.
"We sent out flyers and talked with the families [about the program]," said Mendez.
The program was first implemented around the spring of last year at the Early Childhood Center, and started off with about five parents attending, focusing on the improvement of writing and reading skills. However, even though it was originally targeted for the parents in their Early Childhood Program, it has welcomed anyone in the West New York community with an interest in improving their Spanish writing and reading.
Some non-Hispanics have also joined the class to learn a little bit about themselves. In addition, the parents get to interact and learn more about each other.
"It's not just literacy skills, it's life skills and other things," said Mendez.
They kicked off the beginning of their second year in September, and are now accommodating about nine to ten parents in a classroom at No. 2 School.
"We wanted a classroom environment," said Mendez.
Teaching the literacy class is Belquis Wurzel, who is also a retired teacher from No. 2 School.
"I was retired, but I still loved to teach," said Wurzel, of Fort Lee. "I love to teach and I had no one to teach."
Wurzel was approached about the program by Mendez, and gave an immediate and enthusiastic yes.
"I was spending New Year's with Rita and her husband, and she told me she had an idea for this program," said Wurzel. "That made me the grand prize winner that day, and I said yes, I'll do it!"
Wurzel, who is teaching voluntarily, runs her class like a meeting of friends more than as a strict classroom setting, and relates to her students in every way.
"I tell them stories and anecdotes because that takes away a lot of the pressure," said Wurzel. "They don't see me as their teacher. I'm their friend; I'm their sister."
"She's done an excellent job with the [parents]," said Mendez. "She's there for them, and she's kept in touch with those parents [from the year before]."
When parents have been unable to make it to class, Wurzel has given them the lesson over the phone. She has also been willing to stay after class and give extra help. She is usually there from 10 a.m., so she has also been available for morning help as well.
The classes run through the entire school year, and parents can sign up throughout the year. There is no cut-off date, and Warsaw is willing to help anyone catch up.
"It runs the entire school year from September to June," said Wurzel.
The class meets twice a week on Wednesday and Thursday from 12 to 2 p.m., due to the parents' scheduling and Warsaw's availability. They also allow parents to bring their children if they can't get a babysitter.
"I've bought crayons and large notebooks so the children will be entertained," said Wurzel.
Future plans for the literacy program will be to include classes at night for those who can't make it in the morning, and additional instructors. If the class keeps expanding, they are also hoping to implement more programs and acquire larger accommodations possibly seeking the help of Memorial High School.
Regardless of what the future holds, the success of the program has been impressive and greatly appreciated.
"We're really excited, and we're hoping the program will grow more," said Mendez.
"I am very happy because this is a satisfaction you feel in your profession," Wurzel said. "This is help with a cause and effect."
The parent training meetings occur once a month and are held at two different times, and provide babysitting. One is at 3:30 p.m., which is a bilingual meeting, and the other is at 6:30 p.m., and has a separate English session and a Spanish session. Presenters come and speak to the parents. Parents get to ask questions and at times participate in hands-on activities.
"We have great parent participation, and hopefully through this we will get more parent involvement," said Mendez.
For more information on the Spanish literacy program, call (201) 553-4035.