Los Dichos program breaks barriers for parents

Adelina Guerrero stands up to read her part of the story in the Los Dichos class at Calavera School. Photo by Nick Lovejoy

As the Hollister School District parents flipped the glossy yellow, blue and green pages of a photocopied children’s book, they read about a young girl and her grandfather.
While the fictional characters watched a storm dissipate, the gloomy weather turned into an opportunity for the girl to hear stories of her grandfather’s cowboy days. It was a tale with “un dicho,” the Spanish phrase for a message or a lesson.
The motto? When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
More than 30 parents participate in the Hollister School District’s “Los Dichos,” program, which gets Spanish-speaking adults into district classrooms reading to children. The program’s name is short for “Los Dichos de la Casa,” which refers to sayings from Hispanic culture that a child would learn at home, said Elvia Teixeira, the district coordinator of parent involvement and attendance.
The parents meet once a month at 8:30 a.m. to discuss the book of the month and how they will share the book’s deeper meaning with elementary school children.
Jesus Gonzalez, the lone man in the group that gathered in the Calaveras Library last week, was present to teach his son, Jose, 10, of Calaveras School, about Latin culture. It’s a topic many parents aren’t teaching, he said.
“Kids are losing the Latin culture,” said Gonzalez, 36, in Spanish.
Next to him, seated in a library chair usually occupied by students, Giovanna Paresi is part of the same program for a different reason. Her son, Matteo, 7, of R.O. Hardin School, is autistic.
“I read in the special-needs classroom,” she said.
Giovanna has seen first-hand the magic of reading because when she awalks in his classroom, students who normally don’t sit still are listening and asking questions, she said.
This month, they’re reading “The Gullywasher,” a book where English and Spanish blend together in a storm of words. The bilingual book is written in two languages, but the English version has a touch of Latino culture with Spanish words like rancho, vaquera and pajarito to describe the ranches, cowgirls and birds of the Southwestern United States.
To the left of the parents, students’ mission projects are on display, including a version of the San Antonio de Padua mission with tan walls and a roof of red painted lasagna.
The district’s “Los Dichos” program started at Calaveras School two years ago and expanded to R.O. Hardin this year, said Teixeira. Next year, it will include Gabilan Hills, she said.
Calaveras School is not a bilingual academy, but many of the students speak Spanish. After Teixeira arrived in the district, she looked at the demographics. She started “Los Dichos” at Calaveras because the campus had the highest number of English language learners.
Los Dichos originated about 15 years ago in San Jose, when a mom wanted to do more in her child’s classroom than sharpen pencils. Project Cornerstone, which is an initiative of the YMCA of Silicon Valley, developed the program.
Teixeira, a former principal, thought to start “Los Dichos” in this district after the its Local Control and Accountability Plan articulated a goal of reaching parents normally not involved in school communities.
“It’s not just sharpening pencils. It’s not just stuffing folders,” she said. “It’s promoting cultural awareness and parent involvement.”
Many of the parents keep the photocopied books in their homes, making little libraries that their children ask to revisit, Teixeira said. In that way, the program is also promoting literacy, she said.
The program is a challenge for some participants because it asks parents with no teacher training to be in those roles, she said.
“My favorite part is truly seeing the parents grow in confidence and do something that for some of them is very, very hard,” she said.

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