Parents Learn to Teach
Al Día (published by The Dallas Morning News)
Saturday, August 6, 2011, p. 1A
According to demographers, a high concentration of recently arrived undocumented immigrants live in hundreds of modest apartments located north of Bachman Lake.
A coalition of organizations is concerned that migrant status and poverty are factors that limit the education of children in this northwest Dallas area.
These students are identified as being at high risk of dropping out of school. More than 10,000 children under the age of 5 who have little possibility of learning English before entering kindergarten live in this area.
Founded three years ago, Bachman Lake Community School’s mission is to help parents of preschool age children become the first and best teachers for their children. The School’s offices and meeting rooms are located in apartment complexes at Cornerstone Chase Apartments, 3110 Valley Meadow Drive, and Chapel Brook Apartments, 9767 Webb Chapel.
Teachers in this community school take their lessons directly into the homes of families, where they show parents Montessori teaching techniques that support language, physical, emotional, and social development. Montessori , a learning style named for the Italian teacher Maria Montessori, emphasizes the student’s independence and permits him to explore the world with his hands and other senses.
"The parents who participate at Bachman are very interested in learning how to support their children's learning,” said Jodi Campbell, the Director of Bachman. “These adults have a fifth to eighth grade education, on average. We are giving them tools to help their babies develop their brains.”
“Many parents think that a child doesn't need to learn anything until he enrolls in kindergarten,” said Campbell. “They think it doesn't make sense to talk to a baby because the baby can't answer. But when we explain to them how beneficial it is to talk to babies, they are fascinated."
Carla Alderete, a native of Colima, is a mother who participates enthusiastically in the lessons. She found out about the programme one day when she was walking outside with her child in a stroller, and one of the teachers gave her a flyer about the “home school.”
Alderete learns when the teacher comes to her apartment to demonstrate a lesson, and then she in turn practices the lesson with her son, Axel Martinez, 18 months old. Her husband, Sergio Martinez, participates in a weekly class for fathers that meets at the Cornerstone Chase Apartments.
"This is a very good programme,” said Alderete. “They are teaching us things that aren't very explicit in our culture. For example, to help the child develop all his senses we must let him touch things in the environment -- the earth, paper, the trees, or a dish of jello.”
“They teach us to speak 'in parallel.' For example, to say to the child, 'Mommy is cooking. Mommy will give you something to eat.' We hug them and give them a name for their feelings -- for example, 'I see you are sad.' And we give them the opportunity to have experiences, to touch things with their little fingers.”
Alderete said that she has learned to redirect her son when he is doing something he shouldn’t. Instead of spanking him or shouting at him, she looks for a way to distract him.
“I’ve seen many changes in my son's development. He is an intelligent and sociable child and he talks a lot. Certainly, his language is not perfect and we don't understand everything he says, but he thinks he is having a big conversation with us. When we laugh, he bursts out laughing, too."
Educators Observe the Teaching Method
This week Bachman Lake Community School was observed by an assembly of Montessori educators who traveled from 20 countries to learn how this innovative programme might be replicated in other countries where there are high concentrations of poor children and marginalized families.
Among the delegates were members of Educateurs sans Frontières, UNICEF, and The Association Montessori Internationale (AMI). The organization Educateurs sans Frontières promotes humanitarian efforts to teach children who have been displaced from their homes due to circumstances in their home countries. For example, in Haiti they seek ways of educating children left homeless by the earthquake, and in Kenya and Tanzania, those who are refugees due to war.
"We decided to meet in Dallas to learn about this unusual project,” said Lynne Lawrence of AMI in Holland. “We are impressed that this programme visits families in their homes and emphasizes children's language development."
Another reason for coming to Dallas was to meet with Terry Ford, who founded East Dallas Community School 30 years ago. Ford also created Lindsley Park Community School before coming to Bachman.
The international assembly includes therapists, humanitarian organizers, and teachers from countries such as Japan, the Philippines, Germany, Tanzania, India, Australia, and England.
Ford said she was grateful for the international attention that the Bachman school is receiving. The Montessori method of education is often used in exclusive private schools, while the schools she founded offer Montessori education to families who would otherwise not be able to have access to those programmes.
"This assembly is interested in seeing how the Montessori approach to education is being used in a nontraditional way,” said Ford. “We think this programme will change the lives of these children forever. The parents will learn that together we can achieve changes in the community in which we live. The children will arrive at kindergarten ready to learn and with the support they need from their families."