BY CRAIG COLEY
Every Saturday, a room on the second floor of the Monroe County Public Library (MCPL) becomes an international classroom and community known as La Escuelita Para Todos, the Little School for All. About 40 children attend with their parents, most of whom were born in Mexico. While the adults study English, the children learn Spanish from Indiana University graduate students.
One of the program’s goals is to prevent what La Escuelita Principal Daniel Soto calls “subtractive bilingualism,” where children lose their first language while learning a second. Soto says that formally studying the language spoken at home enhances children’s pride in their culture and boosts their confidence.
Luz Lopez moved to Bloomington 14 years ago from Mexico, and her children, ages 8 and 10, have been attending La Escuelita since it began in 2014. “Before, they were insecure speaking Spanish outside the house,” Lopez says. “Now they know this is normal. I can tell the difference when they talk to grandma in Mexico.”
Patricia Wever Marvin, an educational diagnostician who runs the educational program at La Escuelita, says studying Spanish also helps the children learn English. “These skills are very fluid. They transfer easily from one language to another,” she says. “Our main thing is to have the kids understand the value of being completely bilingual and biliterate and embracing their culture.”
Soto says many of the IU graduate student tutors are Latino and provide excellent role models. “The children see that university is not far away,” Soto says.
La Escuelita also serves as a bridge between parents and classroom teachers. “If the parents have a question, they come to us and we talk to the teachers,” Soto says. “If the teachers think a child has problems, they call us and we talk to the parents. We work together with the whole system for the well-being of the children.”
Since the children attend schools throughout the county, La Escuelita becomes a Spanish-speaking community for them, Marvin says. “We just become family.”
To learn more about La Escuelita Para Todos, email Daniel Soto at firstname.lastname@example.org.