Preparing Young Immigrant Children for School

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We all know how important a child’s education is. It’s hard enough for many young parents to balance work with raising their children, this becomes even harder when there’s also a language barrier to contend with.

The Early Years Institute (EYI) on Tuesday evening unveiled a new children’s reading center at the Consulate of El Salvador in Brentwood. The reading center will contain a variety of picture books and bilingual children’s books to promote early learning. Through this project, the EYI is looking to address the growing epidemic of children not reading at grade level.

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For immigrant families, this issue is magnified because English may not be spoken at home at all, so these children are starting school at a disadvantage.

“In largely immigrant towns on Long Island, many immigrant children are only fluent in their home language, so it’s very challenging for them when they start school,” said Johanna Rotta, Coordinator of Community Assets at the Early Years Institute. “They’re in a dual language program, and switching back and forth often confuses them. It’s challenging also because many parents aren’t highly educated in their home country, so the children don’t have the support at home to help them.”

The reading center won’t just contain bilingual children’s books, but will also contain information for young parents, in Spanish, that stress the importance of early childhood education and lay it out in a clear, easy-to-understand format.

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According to a recent New York Times article entitled “For Young Latino Readers, an Image is Missing,” research shows children have a stronger connection with the material they are reading if the characters look like them or come from similar cultures. The inclusion of bilingual books featuring characters of color is key in order to assure that the Latino children who visit the Consulate see themselves in the stories and to encourage parents who are not fluent in English to read to their children or narrate picture books.

This children’s reading center is expected to be used by the over 100 families every day who visit The Consulate of El Salvador, who currently wait for four hours on average to process their paperwork. It is during this idle time, which before was occupied by watching non-age appropriate television, that children and families will be able to access and enjoy the various picture and children’s books made available to them through the reading center.

According to the EYI, the El Salvador consulates in Washington, D.C. and in New York City have expressed interest in introducing similar children’s reading centers at their locations as well.

For more information on the Early Years Institute and the reading center, visit their website.

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