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First Graduating Class; 21 People Complete Literacy Program

Melissa Pionzio

December 02, 2010

When Yajaira Oquendo talks about why she committed 26 weeks to the Academy for Parents adult education program to learn English and parenting skills, her face breaks into a big smile.

"I did it for my baby," the 23-year-old Puerto Rican native said of her 1-year-old son, Aderson. "So when he goes to school, I will understand him. This program has helped me with the basics."

Oquendo is a member of the first graduating class of The Academy for Parents, a family literacy project for low-literate Latino parents of young children in Hartford. On Wednesday, 21 Hartford residents celebrated completing the program during a ceremony at the Charter Oak Cultural Center that included a visit from Hartford's Mayor Pedro Segarra.

"Before I joined, I wasn't speaking a lot of English but after, I started to read more," said Francisco Valencia, a native of Mexico who participated in the academy with his wife, Arlene Angel. "Now I can speak to people, I learned more words and now I feel more comfortable."

Modeled after successful literacy/parenting programs in Middletown and Willimantic, the academy is the pride of its founder, Art Feltman, a former Hartford city councilman who served as a state legislator for more than a decade. His goal was to help parents learn English so that their children would have a strong learning environment at home.

"I was very involved in public education for most of my time there and I became frustrated with the underperformance of Hartford public schools, that there seemed to be no strong correlation with money spent, state aid received and test scores," Feltman said. "We are convinced that for Hartford neighborhoods to keep and attract educated families, parents ... who value education will only choose neighborhoods with strong schools. If you are in a neighborhood where the prevailing issue is low literacy, you are going to have low-performing schools. They will start behind and in likelihood stay behind."

Funded by AT&T, Northeast Utilities, Connecticut Health Care Foundation, Hartford Hospital, Verizon, Trinity College, Travelers and a number of foundations in Hartford, the literacy and parenting classes were held at the Hartford Public Library and Central Baptist Church. Child care, food and transportation were provided, and the group took field trips, including ones to the Connecticut Science Center and the New England Air Museum.

"We are picking up people who come from rural areas where schools are poor and they were not able to finish their education and are not fluent or able to write in Spanish," said Feltman, who will offer the program again in March. "If parents read to their children in their native language then the transition to kindergarten is smooth, because it is easy for a child to pick up a second language when they know the first."

To learn more about The Academy for Parents, go to www.laplp.org, call 860-524-5603 or e-mail art@laplp.org.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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