WINCHESTER — Had she not gone to the first School Readiness Fair for English Learners three years ago, it’s unlikely Isabella Alemany would be driving a school bus for Frederick County Public Schools today.
Hosted by the school division, Alemany said she likes attending the fair because she learns about resources available in the community, including courses to practice English. She got information about her school bus driver job at a previous fair.
Alemany’s daughter, Larissa Alemany, 6, will be in second grade at Bass-Hoover Elementary School this fall. Alemany’s first language is Portuguese. She also speaks Spanish. Before Larissa started school, she mostly spoke Portuguese. Each year, her English has improved. Now, Alemany only allows Larissa to speak Portuguese at home.
The third annual fair was held Wednesday at James Wood Middle School.
“I met a lot of people that teach my kid, so it’s also good to make those connections closer,” Alemany said.
Larissa got a cup, measuring tape, small football and pencils. She also signed up to get a backpack full of supplies from Bright Futures-Frederick/Winchester.
Organizations that participated in the event included the Blue Ridge Youth Soccer Association, Frederick County Parks and Recreation, Handley Library, the Lord Fairfax Health Department, Lord Fairfax Community College, Literacy Volunteers and Adult ESL Classes, and Sinclair Health Clinic.
Interpreters were on hand to assist families.
A new participant at this year’s fair was Mobile Clothing Ministry, which brought free clothes for people of all ages. All of the clothes are donated.
More than 50 people attended the first hour of the fair, which was held from 1-6 p.m.
Silvia Restivo, coordinator of English Language Learner programs and school counseling for Frederick County Public Schools, said she started the fair three years ago when she saw parents whose first language isn’t English struggling to find school supplies, school transportation, or even knowing they need to call the school if their child is out sick for the day. On top of educating parents about basic school information, Restivo added community resources to the event to let them know what’s available in the area.
The language barrier makes it harder for families who don’t primarily speak English to find resources and can make people nervous to show up to community events.
“There’s an embarrassment piece,” she said.
Restivo hopes the hiring of an English Language Learner parent liaison will help further bridge the gap. The liaison will work with parents at Redbun Run Elementary School and Millbrook High School, which have the highest concentrations of ELL students in the school division, she said.