To support youth literacy in Juneau, the Juneau Community Charter School recently teamed up with The Learning Connection to host their first family fun night, a mini-Fiesta de Colores, held Jan. 28 at TLC's Gruening Park location.
"What a blast!" said charter school teacher Sheila Keller of the event. "I met so many new people because the turnout was spectacular. I hope many new friends decide to attend our Fiesta event at JCCS on March 13."
Fiesta de Colores is originally an all-school community open house, held every winter to celebrate Spanish language and Hispanic culture, which is normally incorporated into the charter school's K-6 curriculum. The Jan. 28 event was created so charter school families could meet their neighbors and for Gruening Park families to learn more about the school.
Linda Newman, a parent volunteer who also handles outreach and recruitment for the school, agreed that the night was a hit.
"We were very pleased with its success and are hopeful that our connection can continue," Newman said of the partnership between the charter school and TLC. "We chose the fiesta, as it is more unique to JCCS. ... As we teach the kids about civic responsibilities it only felt right to do so as an entire school community with the TLC collaboration of a fiesta!"
The mini-fiesta featured tortilla-making and crafts as well as reading and singing in Spanish. The charter school also provided free children's books in Spanish.
"On the surface, there was so much going on, but if you looked just a little bit deeper, you would find a wonderful, purposeful order, kind of like our classroom, I like to think," Keller said. "It was a memorable occasion."
Lisa Arehart, preschool teacher for the Tlingit & Haida Headstart at the Pioneer Home, was the first community volunteer to sign up for the event.
"She and her daughter, Alicia, taught lots of small hands how to make lovely tissue paper flowers," Newman said. "They also encouraged several of the preschool families to attend the celebration."
Ironically, the attendance was so wonderful that volunteers had too many people to do all of the literacy activities they'd planned, Newman said.
"The number of people made negotiating the space - which felt so rich and warm with chatter, good food and craft-making going on - not ideal to play this game or quietly listen to a story," she described. "The activity tables of paper banners, worry dolls, paper-flower making and god's eyes were labeled in English and Spanish as well. From my OT perspective, looking through the crowd for people, was a great mini-literacy eye exercise!"
And according to Christina NaMee Eriksen, site coordinator and early childhood literacy instructor at TLC, the fiesta "was made an even more exciting prospect given that about half of the families currently enrolled in (TLC's) Even Start program have Hispanic roots."
"We were excited to collaborate on a family night with JCCS," Eriksen said, "because it would bring diverse communities of Juneau together while sparking relationships that could be both good for JCCS in terms of outreach and great for our families in terms of finding services that can meet their children's educational needs."
Brenda Taylor, a parent and the charter school's APC president (parent-governing board), said the school also is working with the district to support Juneau's multiculturalism.
"The charter school and the Juneau School District would both like to see the school be more representative of our community's diversity," she said. "We are doing multiple types of outreach, but we know it is in relation-building that change occurs."
That was the underlying understanding at the recent fiesta. But as a teacher, Keller understands such events don't happen without the support and hard work of the parent volunteers.
"Thank you to all the parents who made it even more wonderful, by showing up in such force," Keller said. "For me, it was one of our best events in years, and I hope you found it satisfying, too. I expect this is just the start."
Eriksen agreed that the recent family night has helped spark enthusiasm for future literacy events.
"The Homework Club kids have already asked us, 'When's the next party going to be?'" Eriksen said. "The energy and excitement from the Fiesta de Colores can still be felt here, and I think that it will help sustain some of the connections that were formed in organizing the event."
Eriksen said she sees more family event planning between the charter school and TLC in the future, both at Gruening Park and at TLC's sister site at Cedar Park Housing in Douglas.
"Like with every good networking event, it was beneficial to 'put faces to names' and to establish a relationship between JCCS and TLC that can help us refer children and families whose educational goals and needs could benefit from JCCS's services," Eriksen said. "We also hope that the collaboration could be beneficial for JCCS in better understanding what those goals and needs are for the people in our community. At the least, this collaboration can help us continue to work together towards our mutual goals of excellent education opportunities for all students."
Newman, other parents and teachers invite the community to the charter school's next official Fiesta de Colores on March 13 to be held at the school, located at 430 Fourth Street in downtown Juneau.
Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.