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Celebrating six successful years at the Family Learning Center

Feb 10, 2017 11:38AM, Published by Jet Burnham, Categories: Education, Today


Students at the FLC celebrate holidays together. (Josefina Swensen/Family Learning Center)


Gallery: Celebrating six successful years at the Family Learning Center [5 Images] Click any image to expand.



by Jet Burnham | j.burnham@mycityjournals.com

Many schools have a Family Learning Center, but Columbia Elementary is celebrating its sixth successful year because of Josefina Swensen. Parents, administration, teachers and students agree Swensen, the center’s coordinator, is the reason their program is extraordinary.

“Our program has been highly successful because of Josefina,” said Principal Kathe Riding. “She is the difference.”

Swensen and colleagues Jovana Posselli and Cecilia Samaniego teach classes in English, computers (basic and advanced) and GED preparation. Swensen said theirs is the only FLC to have had GED graduates in the last three years. That is why Salt Lake Community College refers students to Columbia’s center. 

Swensen is also responsible for translating between the parents and the school. She is an advocate and a resource for Hispanic families, which make up 52 percent of the school’s population.

“Information we give them helps them adjust and they start doing really well,” said Swensen. She said there are things families new to the country don't understand—when to use the ER vs. InstaCare, how to network for jobs, what the cultural norms are for bringing  treats to school for their child’s birthday. Many immigrants don't know where to go for help if they don’t understand a letter in the mail or if they have problems with their children’s behavior. Families at Columbia know they can go to Swensen for help.

“They know there's always someone here if they have a problem,” said Swensen, who never cancels class and who gives out her private number.

“It can't be a 9-to-5 job, or it doesn't work,” said Swensen, who has been known to call students from her hospital bed. 

“[The Center] is a refuge where they can find friends; it just can't be a place for class.” she said. “A lot of what I do is not part of my job description but there's a need, and it’s fun.” 

The “fun” includes celebrating holidays together, sharing lunch, hosting baby showers and providing simple gifts for Mother's Day and Christmas.

Swensen said Riding is a phenomenal support. 

“She always finds a way to help with any ideas and plans we have,” said Swensen. “She trusts us—and for me, that was a big thing—so I try to do my best.” 

Swensen told Riding she wanted the annual graduation ceremony for students to be special. Riding purchased the caps and gowns Swensen had requested. Swensen mentioned some women needed sewing machines to learn basic mending skills, so Riding tracked down 15 surplus machines.

When Swensen sees a need for education, she provides a class. Offerings include zumba, yoga, sewing and crocheting. Swensen has also established contacts with business owners who come in for demonstrations on barbering and cooking. The Utah Health Department hosts clinics for car seat safety checks and health education. They know hosting at Columbia’s FLC means it will be well-organized and well-attended.

“I definitely feel very fortunate and grateful to have a center as complete as the Family Learning Center at Columbia Elementary,” said Ana Martinez, graduate of the computer class who is currently taking English classes at the center. “It has been a very great tool for improvement.”

Also unique to Columbia’s program is an opportunity for students to “pay back” for the free classes. Columbia’s climate/culture specialist, Angela Drope, reported that between September and December, 217 volunteer hours were performed by FLC students. They cut, stapled and assembled packets and crafts for Columbia’s teachers.

Riding believes when they have a way to give back, the parents feel more part of the school.

The program is to help the kids. If you help a mom, you help the whole family,” said Riding, who said the tasks also give the volunteers job skills experience. 

Swensen has seen huge improvements in the self-confidence of her students, who are mostly women and commonly suffer from shyness and low self-esteem.

“The FLC means something very important in my life. It has provided me with knowledge and encouragement to continue improving,” wrote Luz Elena Chavez , who completed the Basic Computers course and is currently attending English and GED classes. “The Center has expanded my world.”

“They feel it's their school,” Swensen said. “They can walk the halls and talk with the teachers and feel involved.”

Samaniego, the computer instructor, said the parents who take her class are proud to be able to complete online registration for their children independently, just like all the other parents.

Riding has noticed those who participate in the FLC have confidence to express their opinions on what happens at their children’s school. 

And their kids are learning from their examples.

“They see their parents in class and doing homework and expecting it from the kids,” Riding said. As a result, their children’s writing and performance has improved.

The FLC has albums filled with letters of thanks from the many students who’ve benefited from Swensen’s influence over the years. One letter stated: 

“The FLC means something very important in my life. It has provided me with knowledge and encouragement to continue improving,” wrote Luz Elena Chavez , who completed the Basic Computers course and is currently attending English and GED classes. “The Center has expanded my world.”



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