Edmonds Community College holds a Natural Leaders and Parent Mentor Celebration 5:30-7:30 p.m. May 21, in Woodway Hall 202, 20000 68th Ave. W, Lynnwood.
The celebration is the result of a partnership between seven local school districts, the nonprofit Washington Alliance for Better Schools, and Edmonds Community College helps immigrant families connect to the public school system and helps parents turn their natural talents into resume-building credentials.
At the event, parents who are Natural Leaders will talk about what they have accomplished in their school districts. Alumni of the Parent Mentor Certificate will talk about what the college experience has meant to them and this year’s graduates will be honored.
"I couldn't believe I was going to have the ability to achieve my childhood dream of going to college," said Natural Leader and alumna Ana Lilia Garcia. "My dream is to get a career and give my children a better life, but the most important thing is to encourage my children to continue studying. I know that by being an example for them, I will let them know that continuing studying is the best way to achieve their goals. This is just the beginning for me because I know that this will help me keep going and achieve my other goals.”
The Washington Alliance for Better Schools (WABS) started the Natural Leader program with local school districts in 2003 with funding from the state Readiness to Learn Program. Parents in the program work with immigrant families, translating for them, acting as liaisons between public schools and families with limited English skills, listening to their ideas on how to help their children be successful in school, and offering learning opportunities for children and families.
The program is now in the Edmonds, Everett, Northshore, Shoreline, Mukilteo, Monroe, and Marysville school districts.
Later the program approached the college’s Family Support Studies program asking for training for its Natural Leaders so that they could gain career skills as parent mentors, family support workers, or family advocates. Scholarships for these bilingual/bicultural students have been made to the Edmonds Community College Foundation's Parent Mentor fund by The Seattle Foundation’s Turnstone Fund, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and United Way of King County.
These funds support student tuition for two of the five quarters needed to complete the certificate. Community volunteers also help students apply for financial aid to cover the remaining tuition costs. The college celebrated the first nine graduates of its two-year Parent Mentor Certificate in 2010.
“The certificate program is essential because it opens doors for career opportunities and higher wages for Natural Leaders, increases the number of bilingual, multicultural staff in schools, and provides important role models about the importance of college,” said WABS Natural Leader Project director Barbara Gurley.
Students in the certificate program are taught by both an English as a Second Language instructor and a Family Support Studies instructor and may receive assistance with financial aid and childcare.
“There is a growing need for family advocates in schools, Head Start, ECEAP, and other Family Support programs and this certificate gives our graduates the opportunity to fill those positions,” said Helen Nissani, program director for the Parent Mentor Program.