Local Parent Center Helps Immigrant and Refugee Families Adjust to American Life | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Local Parent Center Helps Immigrant and Refugee Families Adjust to American Life

Learning a different language at any age can be a challenge. But for the growing immigrant population in the Chicagoland area it's important to communicate get around town and help their children. One north suburban organization is reaching out to help make the transition a little easier. Eight Forty-Eight's Erica Hunter has the story.

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Picture this: Your child comes home from school with mounds of forms for you to fill out, you struggle to decipher the language, scribbling in bits and pieces of information. Then comes homework and your child asks for help with that. You shudder because you can't help them. That's the harsh reality for many immigrant and refugee families living in Illinois who find themselves lost in translation.

JO: English is very hard when I live in America. That is the biggest problem. After I take this class I want to talk with somebody in English.

Janice Jo moved to America from South Korea. She's a student of the English Language Learners Parent Center in Skokie, Illinois.

Corrie Wallace is the center's director.

WALLACE: We have a homework help and parent education program that was in direct response to parents who've said they want to help their children in school and they feel they can't because of their level of English.

The ELL partners with Oakton Community College to meet the needs of this growing immigrant population in the suburbs. Wallace says it's not just about teaching parents how to speak English.

WALLACE: I've tried to create survival based programming for parents to give them what they need. For example, every month we have a representative from PACE come out to talk about public transportation and using buses and trains and explains the systems, then we move into our small computer lab where people can go online and put in their home address and the Center's address and figure out how would you get from your house to the center? So they're getting computer skills and real-life skills in whatever they're doing here, and I think that's something that's basically lacking because people sort of land here and don't really know where to go. They're sent somewhere to take English, but there's a lot of differences in our infrastructure.

Aside from learning how to navigate both the information superhighway and the real highway, the center offers many other programs like health education, citizenship classes, financial aid seminars and library tours.

Over the past two years, the ELL Parent Center has served 500 parents from 36 countries.

WALLACE: We have the largest number of immigrants and refugees outside of Chicago. There are 90 languages spoken throughout the Township, and here I think we've seen 40 different languages.

AMBI: Khelud Abdlazziz talking about registering her children

Khelud Abdlazziz is an Iraqi refugee. She learned about the parent center while registering her two children for school. Khelud was a math teacher in her own country but she quickly learned that things are different in the U.S.

ABDLAZZIZ: In my country we don't have lunch time like this. Like we don't have bus to drive the kids or pick up the kids. Also in my country, college and universities are free too.

Wallace says another big difference is that American schools rely more on parental involvement.

WALLACE: They expect as a parent to be an advocate for your child and that's very different than other educational systems that people are coming from where they typically drop their kids off at the school, the people at the school are the authorities and they leave.

Khelud, who's been in the U.S. for almost two years, says the transition was hard, but now things are better.

ABDLAZZIZ: After one and a half year now, like we are settled down like we are used to everything. I get job. My husband get job, you know when we came here we don't have job. This thing is hard too. But now it's fine, and my kids used to school too, yeah and they speak English now is good.

Janice Jo's English got better with free daycare provided by the center while she took her classes.

JO: I got citizenship, so I got job. So, when I got a job, Corrie helped me. When I meet someone who need to learn English, I recommend this class.

Wallace is thankful she's able to help make the lives of others better.

WALLACE: What I like most about this center and being in this position is having the autonomy to do what makes sense for parents because so many times organizations run into challenges where they want to do something, they have a good idea, but the powers that be say “oh that's a good idea, but.” And there's just not very many “buts” here. Anything that people want that walk in, if there's the energy and the effort to make it happen then it's going to happen.

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