BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — Bentley Elementary School honored several “graduates” last week, a group of school parents and grandparents who recently became U.S. citizens or are far along in the application process.
As part of its outreach to Spanish-speaking families whose children attend the elementary school, Bentley has hosted evening classes in citizenship and English as a Second Language courses for the past two years. More than 40 parents have enrolled.
Mayor Kim Driscoll and Superintendent Stephen Russell were on hand Thursday night as certificates were presented to Bruna Toribio de Ozoria, Sofia Castañeda, Maria Monegro and Erika Harrison, who took the class last year in preparation for becoming U.S. citizens.
The citizenship course is taught by Nestor Grullon, a native of the Dominican Republic who is a longtime community activist and president of VOCES, a social services organization located in The Point, a largely Latino neighborhood near the downtown.
“We’re still waiting for immigration reform ... but while we’re waiting, we can work with parents who want to become U.S. citizens,” said Grullon, 54.
“I was so proud to do that same thing. ...I want them to learn that when you become a U.S. citizen, you can vote,” he said. “Voting is one of the privileges ...Your quality of life changes — it could be a better job and more money.
“I want people to get involved with politics, get involved with democracy...”
Grullon said he has about a dozen students in his current class, which meets two nights a week at the school. The ESL class is even more popular, with 17 students enrolled this school year.
Bentley, which serves a number of Latino families, began these outreach efforts last year after being designated a Level 4, under-performing school by the state. One area that needed improvement, the state said, was parent involvement.
These classes were seen as one way to help parents become more active who, for cultural, language or other reasons, may not have felt comfortable at school events.
The night classes are making a difference, one official said.
“These are all Bentley families,” said Gabrielle Montevecchi, the assistant principal. “It’s the same parents we’re seeing not only at classes but at school events. For us, that’s a clear indication of the improvement of our outreach efforts.”
For several parents, the introductory classes at Bentley are a first step.
“We know, from many of the folks, that this is the beginning of them going on to perhaps more formal education,” Montevecchi said.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.