Detroit parents, kids learn — and graduate — together

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Correction: This story has been updated to correct Berta Vivanco's name. 

Detroit — Darline Ibarra Garcia pranced around the gymnasium in her elegant, floor-length, purple gown Thursday afternoon. It was graduation day for both Darline and her mom, Anali Ibarra Garcia.

The 5-year-old and the 31-year-old held hands as they walked across the stage inside the Police Athletic League gym in southwest Detroit to accept their graduation certificates. The mom and daughter were among 67 families graduating from a groundbreaking program, Toyota Family Learning, in which parents and their children learn together.

The program is offered at Southwest Solutions and nine other locations around the country.

To earn their certificates, the graduates, all Hispanic, participated in the program for children and their parents offered at one of four elementary schools: Munger, Harms, Maybury and Lighthouse Charter Academy, all in southwest Detroit.

Garcia proudly said her English has improved since she participated in the program at the Lighthouse Charter Academy. Her son Oscar Ibarra Garcia is only 3 and not in the program. But the mom said she benefited from participating with her daughter.

"I could not speak English at all when I first moved here from Mexico eight years ago ," said Garcia. "Now, I can speak the language, read it and write it much better, and I want to continue learning everything I can."

Southwest Solutions launched the local Toyota Family Learning program with a three-year, $175,000 grant awarded by the National Center for Families Learning and Toyota.

During the six-month program, geared toward low-income families, parents and children learn alongside each other in the classroom, at home and in the community with mobile technology, family-to-family mentoring and Family Service Learning projects.

"This is what parental engagement and community success is all about," said Donna Cielma, director of early childhood and school-based services at Southwest Counseling Solutions. "Without the dedication of the families, this community would not be as vibrant as it is."

Berta Vivanco participated in the program through Harms Elementary School. She has three sons, 11, 7 and 3.

"When my oldest son used to come to me and tell me he didn't understand something he was learning in school, I'd look at him and say, 'it's the same for me,'" said Vivanco, who has lived in the U.S. for 13 years. "Now with my 7-year-old, it's different, because I'm learning alongside him."

Vivanco said she wants to earn her GED and find a job working with computers.

Following the graduation ceremony, the families crowded onto the center of the gym, along with their teachers, for a group photo before proceeding downstairs for refreshments.

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