The day before the first snow day of the year for GRPS, as the winter weather already was beginning to make its presence known with falling temperatures and snow, the atmosphere in a classroom on the third floor of Sibley Elementary was warm and inviting.

There Sibley parents were gathered with Karrie Roy, the district’s EL/Refugee Parent Community Liaison, for their weekly workshop, part of a 10-week series called  Abriendo Puertas or Opening Doors.

The program was developed by and for Latino parents with children up to the age of five and has been adopted by diverse communities across the country, including now Grand Rapids after Roy, who is fluent in Spanish, brought it to the district after working for two decades in K-12 education in Los Angeles.

“The workshop is conducted in Spanish primarily for our Latino parents, though all are welcome,” Roy said. “The goal is to empower parents to be their child’s first teacher, drawing on the strength and resilience that they already have inside of them.”

As the parents settled in for the workshop, some of them shooing their children away to the daycare in the room and others finishing up the last bites of the provided breakfast, Roy introduced the day’s dicho (Spanish for saying).

“In English,” she said, “it’s this: ‘The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.’ Who would like to translate that into Spanish?”

The women smiled and one replied: “El futuro pertenece a aquellos que se preparan para él hoy.

The others nodded and continued to smile, and with that they were off to the lessons for the day.

On this day the topic was “My Child: The Media and Technology,” a session designed to inform and encourage parents to embrace media and technology to prepare their children to succeed in the digital age.

“Beyond that,” Roy said, “parents learned how to identify quality media choices, serve as good role models and use developmentally appropriate media and technology.”

As the women discussed a variety of topics and even did some role-playing, the room was filled with laughter and obvious love for each other, something Roy said had been characteristic of the sessions since the start.

“These women are amazing,” she said. “Some of them have endured a lot. And when they come together here, there is a strong sense of solidarity.”

About five years ago, Roy ran the same Abriendo Puertas workshop series while working for Los Angeles Unified School District.

She said that when she started at GRPS, she knew she wanted to bring it to the district, and she was ecstatic when her supervisor, Dr. Mayda Bahamonde Gunnell, approved her to get re-certified to offer it for the first time in Grand Rapids.

“Launching it at Sibley has been great because they already have such a tight-knit parent group that attends weekly English classes onsite,” she said. “It’s been an instant success because of these parents’ willingness to share their stories, their parenting challenges and successes. This isn’t a workshop where I impart knowledge they don’t have. It’s a workshop that celebrates the strength of their own parent leadership.”

A West Michigan native who went to Grandville High School and graduated from Indiana University with a double major in Spanish and Political Science, Roy plans to offer the workshop in 2023 at Buchanan Elementary on 10 Wednesdays beginning January 25 from 8:45-10:45 am, including free childcare and breakfast next on the docket.

Participants in the Sibley pilot agree that an expansion would be awesome.

Lesvia Marroquin is a Parent Action Leader for Sibley and attended many of the recent sessions.

She said seeing the results of the program was amazing.

“It made everyone confident,” she said. “It made them happy, like a family. And now everyone is sad to see it’s done. But they did so great.”

One of those sad to see it done but also feeling empowered by what she had learned over the course of the program was Sibley parent Ruby Garcia.

At the recent graduation celebration for program participants, she spoke to a visitor about what Abriendo Puertas had meant to her.

Though she struggled a bit to put her emotions into English, the smile on her face and the tears in her eyes spoke volumes.

“It’s so important,” she said. “This group, very supportive. I love the program, yes. I love it.”