Learn how Board member Geraldine Burns views the crucial role that families play in building and maintaining strong communities, and discover the ways in which Saint Luke’s Foundation helps to support urban family initiatives throughout Greater Cleveland.
In 2011, Eileen needed help. Having relocated to Cleveland’s Lincoln West neighborhood with her ten-year-old son Christian, Eileen spoke limited English, didn’t own a car, knew little about Greater Cleveland’s social or educational resources, and struggled to link Christian to the proper school programming that met his specialized requirements.
Eileen didn’t know where to turn for answers. More troubling still, she wasn’t sure what questions should be asked, whether she should ask questions at all, or even how to ask, given the language barrier she faced.
The Spanish word esperanza means "hope." And for Cleveland-area Hispanic parents like Eileen, that is precisely what the Esperanza organization provides.
Founded in 1983, Esperanza serves Hispanic families throughout Greater Cleveland with programs and services that drive academic achievement, enhance the quality of economic and community life, promote community leadership, and offer educational services and opportunities.
Yet Esperanza’s broad purpose runs deeper. In many Hispanic countries, school districts are viewed as authority figures that shouldn’t be questioned. In the U.S., however, parents are expected to engage with school officials in order to ensure a quality education for their children. Esperanza helps Hispanic parents understand this distinction, and navigate the system effectively.
The Grant: Esperanza’s Family Engagement Program
Grants from Saint Luke’s Foundation have supported Esperanza programs and initiatives for several years. In 2011, the Foundation deepened its commitment with a $68,000 grant for Esperanza’s year-old Family Engagement Program.
Esperanza’s leaders have long known that Hispanic students view families as the most important element in their lives. Yet they believed that parents, and even grandparents, were not sufficiently engaged in students’ education. In response to this, Esperanza implemented the Family Engagement Program as a pilot in 2010. This 2011 grant enabled Esperanza to hire a new full-time staff member to administer the program.
“Family Engagement educates parents and close relatives on everything from laws to how you read and interpret a report card and how to attend a board of education meeting,” says Esperanza Executive Director Victor Ruiz. “It also provides parents with computer training and other employment skills.”
The program consists of ten consecutive weekly sessions for ten to 15 parents. The curriculum focuses on a different topic each week, and sessions are held at neighborhood high schools, churches – even coffee shops. Since its inception, several ten-week modules have filled to capacity, with more planned through 2012.
Additionally, monthly workshops are available to a larger group of parents on topics that range from financial literacy to special education services.
Finally, the program creates and manages parent-to-parent support systems. Says Ruiz, “If a parent schedules a doctor’s appointment and needs a translator, for example, she can call on her network rather than pulling a child out of school to translate.”
Impact: Gauging Success and Achievement
In the short term, progress is measured through proof of engagement – parents meeting with principals, helping their children with homework, and formally connecting with services and resources. Over time, Esperanza seeks quantifiable student progress, so success is gauged by tracking a student’s GPA, school attendance and standardized test scores.
Student achievement may be the primary benefit of the Program; but it isn’t the only one. Parents, to the surprise of Ruiz, have demonstrated great pride in their own participation. “We hold a graduation after every ten-week module, and parents will bring their families to the ceremony,” he says. “They’ll even cite their graduation on their resumes. Many of these parents didn’t graduate from high school, so they see it as a big accomplishment.”
Results: Delivering Help – and Hope
Having graduated from a ten-week program module in 2012, Eileen gained confidence in her ability to make informed decisions about Christian’s schooling. She also feels better prepared to actively help him succeed in the classroom, and eventually beyond it.
“This program helped me understand how to ask for help, what questions to ask, and where to go,” recalls Eileen. “If the teacher or principal can’t help, then maybe someone else can help me. Speaking mostly Spanish, it is sometimes difficult to ask in the right way. Esperanza has made a difference for me.”