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Abriendo Puertas program empowers parents to be their child's first teacher, advocate

  ·  Natalie Vesga

Over the last couple months, I have had the honor of attending several Abriendo Puertas graduation ceremonies. They have taken place in auditoriums and gymnasiums, classrooms and ballrooms. The smells that surround me when I arrive at the graduations come from the delicious homemade meals parent-participants have prepared for the special event – from enchiladas to posole. The walls are decorated with banners that read, “Felicitaciones a los graduados de Abriendo Puertas! Congratulations to the Abriendo Puertas graduates!” Balloons and flowers made from origami paper are strategically placed around the room to create a festive atmosphere.

At each ceremony, I have been greeted with open arms and whole-hearted gratitude for bringing the program to the host organization. But I'm most strongly reminded of the value of the Abriendo Puertas program when I see the faces light up on parents who now have the knowledge to be their children's first and best teachers. During one of the graduations I attended, a parent stated “Abriendo Puertas has made me aware of the rights of my child and myself as a parent, and that I can advocate on his behalf.” These are the stories that convince me how important this program is.

Sandra Gutierrez, the National Director of Abriendo Puertas, designed the program to empower parents. It gives them the tools and the confidence to make sure their children succeed. Parents feel accomplished when I meet them. They tell me how much the program has opened their eyes to bonding with their children, learning about how the public school system works, and about how taking care of themselves is important, because without their health, the health and development of their children could be compromised. Recently, Child Trends came out with an evaluation of the program that shows its impact on parents after having participated in the sessions. To review the report, click here.

So far, more than 300 parents have graduated from 18 Abriendo Puertas sites located in Chicago, Cicero, Joliet, and Rockford. These graduates are eager to go back to their homes and neighborhoods, and they cannot wait to put to use the skills and knowledge they have just received. The experience never fails to remind me of the importance of self-realization. This year, we had increased participation in our early childhood education advocacy day from parents who had attended the Abriendo Puertas sessions and learned about the importance of advocacy. A full bus of more than 50 parents and providers rode off to Springfield to tell their stories and talk to legislators.

At the tail end of 2013, the Forum conducted three 3-day train-the-trainer Facilitator Institutes, which were successfully completed over a three-month time span in the following locations:

  • Rockford, IL - September 25 – 27, 2013 (Spanish)
  • Lisle, IL - October 16 – 18, 2013 (Spanish)
  • Chicago, IL - November 13 – 15, 2013 (English)

20 organizations participated, sending two staff members each. Several organizations have more than one site, so all together there are 28 sites participating in the program.

In March, ABC7 Chicago recorded a segment for their weekend show, The Ñ Beat, which focused on the Abriendo Puertas program and the positive effects it has had throughout the region. It was great to get the word out and to highlight the work of our partner organization, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, as well. Two of their current coordinators were trained in Chicago’s training last year, and their commitment to the program is exceptional.

Though it has been a busy year thus far, we are not content to rest on our achievements. One major initiative will be to work on ensuring program quality and sustainability into the future. To that end, the Forum will focus on conducting two facilitator trainings and building the pipeline of master trainers. This will enable the Forum to expand the program and maintain high quality of instruction.

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