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'90s FAMILY : Back to School : At Walt Disney Elementary, some of the students look a little big for their chairs. That's because an innovative after-school program is bringing parents into the classroom to join the computer age.

June 21, 1995|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Enedina Cardozo, mother of three, sat at a computer station at Walt Disney Elementary with her 5-year-old son, Martin, a kindergart ner. Both had their eyes glued to the monitor. All of the Cardozo children have attended Disney Elementary, a public school in Burbank, and received computer lessons as part of their regular school day.

But thanks to a bilingual after-school pilot program, funded through a grant from the state Department of Education, this was the first time parents had been invited to receive computer training alongside their children.

For Cardozo, the program provided an opportunity to acquire skills to aid her in getting the sort of job she would like "in an office or even at home," she said. Martin, shrugging off all questions, was too busy working the computer to consider its role in a future profession.

His 11-year-old sister, Dulce, a student in her last year at the school, sauntered by to monitor her mother's progress.

When asked if the family intended to purchase a computer, Cardozo was quick to answer: "For sure, because Dulce wants one for junior high."

At a nearby terminal, Irene Aquilar worked with her 5-year-old son, David, who was also intent on the computer program.

David, like Martin, was already an old hand at computers when his mother got started in the program. He, along with the other kindergartners, had had three months of training as part of their classwork.

On this, the last day of the six-week spring parent-child program, it was business as usual for the classroom full of fairly skilled, big and small computer users.

Business was certainly the right word to describe the Aquilar family's attitude toward the program. Aquilar, who was a secretary in her native Mexico, plans to work in retail after her three children are raised, and the after-school program was a first step in preparing for that, she said. David has plans to be a doctor, following in the footsteps of one of his father's relatives in Mexico.

Of course, David also spoke of becoming an ice-cream pushcart vendor if medicine doesn't work out. Such are the ambitions of 5-year-olds.

The computer-training program was made possible, in part, because school officials had already raised money from the community to buy Apple computers for use during the regular school day; the kindergartners got weekly, one-hour sessions. The after-school classes served 28 parents--27 of whom were women. More than half of the parents--60%--requested instruction in Spanish, said Betty Wade, the bilingual teacher who trained them. Teacher Myrna McClain trained the English-speaking parents.

All the computer programs were in English, so non-English speaking parents got the added bonus of language training, while everybody learned a little typing, graphic design and some math while getting up to speed on the computer.

"Parents get it faster. They concentrate. There are no discipline problems," Wade said wryly. One parent, Maria Luisa Ramos, overheard Wade's remark and piped up, "I've fallen in love with computers!"

Wade's Spanish-language portion of the program, modest as it might have been, has distinguished itself by being the first such program in California, said Ignacio Rojas, a computer-training specialist at the Los Angeles County Office of Education. Rojas recently established a similar, but lengthier, program at a county facility in Downey, where two dozen Latino parents now drive to weekly from around the county for basic computer instruction.

The Downey program is open to any parent with a child enrolled in a public school in Los Angeles County. The Burbank program was available only to the parents of the kindergarten class, thus many participants were able to walk there, an important consideration in the low-income neighborhood the school serves.

Wade identifies with the Latino parents, many of whom view computer instruction, even of the most basic kind, as the first step to a better life.

"I get close with the parents, being a bilingual parent myself, with a granddaughter in this very school. I push for them to go as far as they can," she said.

*

Plans for the program at the Walt Disney school include expansion of the parents' program to those with children in first grade --and then maybe second grade on up, said principal Linda Reksten.

She noted that having the Disney name attached to the school has inhibited fund-raising efforts to support such programs. There is no connection between the school and the Disney corporation, as many people think, Reksten said. "So we had to sell candy like crazy," she explained, proffering a chocolate bar printed with a school logo that has a smiling computer in the middle.

The school isn't waiting around for Santa or anyone else to help keep the program going. McClain, who serves as principal of the monthlong summer session for about 100 students at Disney Elementary, had hoped to have a summer version of the program, but funds have not been available.

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