Elio Celaya is unemployed and his wife, Raquel, is a homemaker, yet the Norwalk couple and their four children have been able to work with a $2,000 computer and accessories in their home for several weeks during the summer.
They are one of 30 families to benefit from an innovative program in the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District this summer. Most of the parents speak little or no English. Many of the children are taking bilingual classes in the 18,500-student district, which is about 55% Latino.
"When they asked me at school if I wanted to take a computer home, I asked how much it would cost. I couldn't believe it when they said it wouldn't cost any money," Raquel Celaya said in Spanish. Her daughter Liliana, a senior at John Glenn High School in Norwalk, interpreted.
"This is excellent. I'm even learning on it," Raquel Celaya said. She and the children, who range in age from 5 to 17, spend about two hours a day apiece working with the Apple computer in Liliana's bedroom.
The computer came with software that ranges from word games to help preschoolers learn to spell to more advanced reading exercises for high school students. Other programs concentrate on specific subjects, such as the geography of the United States.
Recently, Raquel Celaya, who was born in Mexicali, attempted to match cities and their states on the computer. She guessed that Ames was in Texas rather than Iowa, and that Nome was in Indiana instead of Alaska. Each time, words flashed across the screen in color: "It isn't a match. Try again."
"Help me," she finally said to the four children, who were gathered around the computer.
After the cities and states were correctly matched, the computer congratulated her. The children laughed and applauded.
"The idea behind the project is to extend the school day and to get the entire family involved in the learning process with the children," said Christine Roubidoux, director of special programs for the district and a former elementary school principal.
"We are not only dealing with the child in our schools but we touch the preschooler, the parents, the aunt, the uncle and other relatives in the household," Roubidoux said.
Bilingual computer programs are available, but Roubidoux said the majority of families use the English programs because parents want to learn English while getting involved with their children's education.
The Norwalk-La Mirada district used $20,000 of its federal Emergency Immigrant Education funds to finance the take-home project, Roubidoux said. The computers are leased from Jostens Learning Corp., headquartered in Phoenix and San Diego. They are equipped with voice synthesizers, a monitor and several reading and writing programs.
The project started in April when 30 families with children at Edmondson Elementary School were selected. After six weeks, the computers were transferred to another 30 families, including the Celayas, who have children at Nottingham Elementary School.
The program will be offered at another elementary school and at John Glenn High before the end of the year, Roubidoux said.
So far, she said, parents are reporting that they spend more time with their children and speak and understand English better. When school begins in September, the district will chart the children's academic performance to determine if it has improved.