Gael Espinoza and his mother, Maricela Salinas read at the Even Start program in the McKinley Elementary School in York. Parents and children learn
Gael Espinoza and his mother, Maricela Salinas read at the Even Start program in the McKinley Elementary School in York. Parents and children learn separately in the program, but each day ends with a half-hour of joint reading. Parents and student classes had an animal theme Wednesday. (Daily Record/Sunday News - Bil Bowden)

Sitting at tables pushed into a box at the McKinley Elementary School, several adults raised a hand when asked who had recently taken the U.S. citizenship exam.

In rooms upstairs, their children were in preschool classes. There, a young Vietnamese boy in one room can answer in English when asked a question in Spanish by a classmate.

Later, parents would join their children for a half-hour of reading. On this day, the theme for almost all of the classes -- adults and children -- was animals.

The York City School District's Even Start program aims to promote literacy by offering classes jointly to parents and children. It reaches about 40 families, mainly English language learners.

"We learn a lot every day, and the kids have a nice day and a good education," said Mayra Noyola, a mother who is in the program with her husband and children.

The waitlist for the program is nearly 80 families long. Often the wait can stretch more than a year because once families are in the program they tend not to leave, said Kimberly Shelley, program coordinator.

"There is just a big need," she said.

The city school district has more than 1,400 English learners -- about 19 percent of the entire student population. In York County, the number of those who primarily speak a language other than English at home increased about 15 percent from 2000 to 2006, according to census estimates.


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The school board is considering moving the program into a building of its own, which would have four additional classrooms. The move hinges on school board approval, and whether the state comes through with a proposed $5.6 million increase in funding for the district.

The district owns a vacant former administration building on Lindberg Avenue, which could be renovated for about $545,000, according to a district cost estimate. The cost would be covered by the expected increase in state funds.

There are at least 10 countries represented in the Even Start program, which was started nearly two decades ago as a literacy program for parents and their children by former U.S. Rep. Bill Goodling.

Children who leave the program often are able to avoid remedial classes when they enter kindergarten, saving the district from having to catch the students up, Shelley said. Parents learn to communicate with teachers, and what to expect from the school system, she said.

"We have parent-teacher conferences, and that gets them comfortable," Shelley said.

Ana M. Torres, of York, began in the program several years ago in beginner's English. Now she is in the adult-education class, where the mother of three learns skills that allow her to help her boys with their homework.

Her class was learning basic algebra, including roots and powers last week. Torres said her oldest son, who is in the sixth grade, is also taking algebra, so they work together.

"He has a lot of homework, and we are the same," Torres said. "I help him, and he helps me with language."

The parents and children spend four days a week, year-round, in classes. While the focus is on literacy, adults who master English move to other topics, such as math, science, history and questions on the citizenship exam.

Whenever someone in the class passes the citizenship test, there is a celebration with homemade foods. Ana Tuali, a parent in Even Start's adult-education class, said she is studying now to take the exam, and said she is thankful the program is there to help her.

"I am learning much about citizenship," she said.

ndobo@ydr.com; 771-2032

CHOICES AHEAD

When Gov. Ed Rendell announced his budget proposal earlier this year, York City School District officials were surprised to see a nearly 16 percent increase in funding -- more than about $5.6 million in extra cash.

While the budget has not been passed, it is not expected to face much opposition in the statehouse. If the school does get the extra cash, there are rules on how it can be spent. It must go to improving, creating or expanding academic programs. It cannot be used to decrease taxes.

The district business manager suggested the board make decisions on spending the money by May, so the budget can be properly advertised to the public, as required by state law. The York City School Board must pass a final budget by June 30.

Of the $5.6 million, the district must spend 80 percent on expanding or introducing academics. Suggestions on spending from school administration total an estimated $3,985,000. The district needs to whittle that to $3,276,260.

WHAT THEY WANT

The administration proposed the following new or expanded programs to the school board at a budget hearing Tuesday. The cost for new jobs includes salary and benefits.

--- An assistant elementary principal at a cost of $100,000. McKinley and Davis elementary schools currently share an assistant principal.

--- Three math coordinators one for each level of schooling, at a cost of $270,000. These staff members would "ensure that daily instruction is consistent across the district."

--- A literacy coordinator at a cost of $90,000. This person would "ensure reading instruction is consistent district-wide."

--- Six home-school liaisons at a cost of $210,000, who would reach out to parents to keep them involved in their children's education, and work with truants. This program was cut in the past because of budget constraints.

--- Six additional staff members for the Duke Street alternative education center at a cost of $340,000. This would allow the district to send an additional 25 students to the in-house program, rather than to more expensive private providers.

--- Increased instructional technology for the elementary and high schoolcosting $300,000. The school district would need to upgrade systems, and possibly hire technology aides to teach educators how best to use the new programs.

--- Public relations official for $80,000. This position was eliminated previously because of budget constraints.

--- Supervisor of elementary education and a supervisor of secondary education for $250,000. The supervisors would "assist administration in the implementation of district-wide policies and initiatives."

--- At-risk coordinator for $90,000. The district already has one at-risk coordinator, and the new person would help with the workload.

--- Three elementary art teachers and three elementary gym teachers for $540,000. The district cut these teaching positions in 2005 because of budget constraints.

--- Five new English language learners teachers for $450,000. The district has more than 1,400 English learners, which is 19 percent of the student population.

--- Summer school for $100,000. Students currently have to go to neighboring schools if they need summer instruction.

--- Summer enrichment courses, for $50,000. The lessons would include topics that aren't normally covered, or classes that a student couldn't fit in during the regular school year.

--- Renovate the former administrative building on Lindberg Avenue for the Even Start program at a cost of $545,000. The building would give the program, which has a wait-list of about 80 families, space to grow.

--- Summer worker program, for $100,000. This would give students who do not intend on continuing their education past high school job skill training.

--- Elementary librarian for $90,000. An additional librarian would allow the district to have one in every elementary building.

--- Two middle school foreign language teachers, for a cost of $180,000. Language courses are currently only offered to high school students.

--- Increased security at the high school and middle schools for $200,000. The school board asked the administration for a "more definitive plan" for this proposal.

SOURCE: The York City School District