Patiently waiting for classes to start on the evening of this interview, Fernando Esparza Montalongo sat with his granddaughter at Lincoln Elementary’s cafeteria talking about the benefits an education has to offer and about the courses he completed at Family University (FAMU).
Montalongo is attending FAMU for the second year and is working towards obtaining his GED with plans to continue on to computer literacy courses.
“Clearly, it’s a good example for them to see their father or grandfather attend school,” Montalongo said. “The children think ‘they are so big and still they attend school?’ It is a way of encouraging them to continue going to school.”
“Family University is for the whole family so we offer instruction for all levels of the family,” said Stephen Price, Instructional Services Coordinator. “Parents can come and if they don’t know how to read, we teach them how to read. Once they learn how to read, we teach them English. Once they learn English, we help them get their GED.
“After they complete that sort of core curriculum then they can access other parts of the program which includes everything from American sign language, to Rosetta Stone, Zumba, and some parenting classes.”
Price said they also have opportunities for children to attend where they receive support in math or reading for about an hour and the rest of the time, another hour, they receive enrichment time which is usually spent in art, computers or sports.
Pre-kinder students are also encouraged to attend to begin learning kinder readiness skills.
“We allow any student (ages 3-5) to attend as long as they are potty-trained from the age of three an up,” said Price. “They are already coming to learn how to act in class, their letters, their numbers, their shapes, how to go to the cafeteria and eat. They learn all of those school readiness things they have to learn.”
FAMU has been a part of the Woodburn community for more than a decade and its popularity continues to grow with residents from surrounding communities wishing they had something similar setup in their district.
FAMU started off as a Migrant Education program but in 2013 the program went through some changes that allowed all Woodburn families to attend, regardless if they were migrants or not, said Price.
The organization has a variety of people and organizations working with them to accomplish their mission. They include Woodburn School District employees as well as volunteer support from Western Oregon University, Woodburn High School and sometimes middle school students.
“Additionally we are working with Chemeketa Community College for our GED program,” said Price. “So we have a lot of people coming from all over the community to support Family University.”
Marisela Fernandez, FAMU registrant and WSD Home School Contact, said the initial reason for establishing FAMU was to support students from the district to succeed with their coursework but they quickly realized that to support students, they also needed the parent’s support. And in many cases, parents were not able to assist with their child’s school work for a variety of reasons but some being that they couldn’t read or write.
“We asked ourselves, ‘How can we help our students while at the same time include helping their parents as well?’,” said Fernandez. “It was a perfect opportunity for us to help parents because as we know that as a school, we need parent support. That is how FAMU was initiated.”
“Sometimes it is hard for parents to accept to us that they don’t know how to read or write but they often recognize they need to learn in order to help their children with their homework,” said Fernandez. “This program is setup to support them as well and we know that if we support their learning, they in-turn support their children which are our students from Woodburn School District.”
Fernandez said that one of the perks she gets from registering parents for FAMU is the change she sees from beginning to end.
“I love to see the change parents go through. They first show up to registration a little fearful, not knowing what to expect,” said Fernandez, “but then suddenly they begin to feel that they are part of a community because they meet other parents in the same situation. They begin to change by supporting each other and helping each other succeed.”
Fernandez shared success story about a father who received a promotion at the nursery where he worked and he was fearful of losing his job because he didn’t know how to read or speak English.
“I will lose my job if I can’t understand or write down orders from clients,” he told Fernandez when he first showed up for registration a couple of years ago.
“It was an incredible feeling to see him reach for success by taking the courses at FAMU that helped him reach his goal of learning to read and write,” said Fernandez. “He is no longer worried about his job and while he was learning, so where his children. That is what FAMU is, a Family University.”
FAMU courses are every Tuesday and Thursday from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Lincoln Elementary in Woodburn, Oregon. However, the schedule is subject to change. If you are interested in attending or if you want more information, contact the Welcome Center between 9 – 4 p.m. at (503) 982 – 4290.
“I encourage those who need the help to come to FAMU and learn and if you already learned, get your GED,” said Montalongo. “This is good for the family, our community and your state of mind.”