By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

The Montclair school district recently completed a pilot version of an English as a Second Language program for district parents.

And the program coordinators — including Dr. Kendra Johnson, the district’s assistant superintendent for equity and Tasha Barge, who is involved with the Charles H. Bullock PTA — believe that the program is off to an encouraging start.

The district hopes to offer two sessions of the program next year, one in the fall and another in the spring.

One question that needs to be addressed, Barge said, is the funding source for subsequent programs. The pilot session was made possible through Title I funding, federal assistance for programs that serve low-income families.

Barge approached Johnson last year about the possibility of offering an ESL program for district parents.

From there, Johnson worked with the school’s PTA, and with Marcos Vargas, the district’s director of secondary programs. “This was an exciting effort for our MPS community,” Johnson said via email on Monday, noting that there is a need for programs and services, when parents may not be aware of services and other assistance at the school due to language or cultural disconnections.

The workshops met each Monday evening from 6:45 to 7:45. There were four class sections, each taught by a Montclair teacher. The program also included child care, and Toni’s Kitchen, the food ministry of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, provided refreshments.

Barge said that the program organizers sent out a survey to prospective participants. About 53 people indicated that they might be interested, and of that number, 22 ended up participating.

The program ended with a special ceremony at which each parent was presented with a certificate.

“To them, it was just being able to hold a conversation with the teachers when it comes to their child’s education,” Barge said. She noted that some of the parents were looking at taking additional steps, like signing up for GED courses. “This was kind of a motivation to get the ball rolling, so to speak.”

Other possibilities include courses on how to navigate the internet or to assemble a resume for a job search.

“It’s not just a one-time year. Learning English is very difficult,” Barge said. “I would love to see this program continue. It’s a passion of mine.”

She also noted that the program goes a long way toward building ties in the community. “Regardless of what part of Montclair you live in, we have one common thread, the American Dream,” Barge said. “Anything we do as neighbors, all of Montclair [are] winners.”