It may be a gray February day outside, but inside the bright and cheerful classroom, an active bunch of preschoolers and their parents are eagerly settling into the routine of their weekly Parenting Across Cultures class.
Anjali Mutnal sits next to her 21/2 -year-old son Arush, watching as he manipulates colorful pieces of a bird puzzle into the proper shapes, and encouraging him as he fills each spot. Ah-yeong Choi and her 4-year-old daughter Seo-Jin are perched in front of a large dollhouse as Seo-Jin carefully rearranges the wooden furniture in each room. Prabhat Khatiwoda, 21/2, and his father, Parmananda, page through a book in the classroom reading corner.
They are all part of the Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) classroom at Crossroads Elementary School in St. Paul. Many parents in this multicultural class speak in their native languages to their children during this time together, but once the entire group gathers into "circle time" for favorites such as "The Cuckoo Clock Song" or "Ram Sam Sam," lead teacher Ann Egyhazi speaks and sings only in English, with the kids and parents joining in.
It's one of several Parenting Across Cultures classes that meet at various ECFE sites in the St. Paul public schools. Structured like a typical ECFE class, where parents and children are together for the first part of class and then separated for the second half, the goal is to help immigrant parents integrate their children into a school environment while also addressing parenting concerns.
"The topics that parents in our Parenting Across Cultures classes are interested in learning about are the same ones we hear about from parents in all our ECFE classes," said Jill Chisholm, parent educator at the Highland-Homecroft site. "And like other parents, the No. 1 reason they enroll in a class like this is because it is important for them to have their children meet other children."
Charity Doghor likes the diversity of the Crossroads class, which typically has about 11 students. She wants her 3-year-old daughter Favour "to meet many kids from other cultures since those are the children she will meet when she's ready to go to school."
Friendships among parents
While the socialization piece is important for children, it is also valuable for parents to interact with other parents.
"Immigrant and refugee parents are less likely to have their kids involved in lots of different activities where they might meet other parents," said Chisholm. "In this class, they want to get to know other parents better. They want to share ideas about how to solve parenting issues."
Parmananda Khatiwoda said raising son Prabhat is totally different from what he and his wife, Bhagi, experienced with their older child, now 10. For them, sharing their struggles with other parents has been helpful.
"When we first started this class, Prabhat didn't like it at all. He would use this as a testing place and hit or get mad," said Khatiwoda, who noted that his family does not speak much English at home. "He would get frustrated, but in the past two months, we have noticed a change. He talks about going to ECFE on Friday mornings and riding the red cycle."
The Parenting Across Cultures class, which is facilitated in English, serves as an introduction for many parents to the American school system. Chisholm said the differences between private and public schools can be confusing to parents, as can terms like "pre-kindergarten" or "preschool."
"We want the parents to ask us questions. We want them to feel comfortable talking directly to teachers as they prepare to send their children to school," she said.
ECFE teachers can also point parents toward assistance they may not have known they needed. Several months ago, Doghor noticed that Favour's speech sounded garbled, but thought her daughter would grow out of it. However, it was the ECFE classroom teachers who encouraged her to bring Favour in for an assessment.
"We discovered that my daughter was speech-delayed. She is now receiving speech therapy and is progressing very well," said Doghor.
- Julie Pfitzinger is a West St. Paul freelance writer. Have an idea for the Your Family page? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org with "Your Family" in the subject line.