Family Literacy center changes lives

Shaheen Khanam, a Bangladesh native, began attending classes at the Queens Library’s Family Literacy Center in Ravenswood almost six months ago only speaking a little bit of English.

After attending the classes both by herself and with her children, Khanam has made tremendous strides in learning English and becoming better involved in her children’s education.

“I have no one to take care of my child so this offers a unique opportunity to learn English and take care of my child,” said Khanam. “This is our home. This program has helped all of us.”

Khanam and her family are only one of 83 Ravenswood families that participate at the Family Literacy Center, which is the only dedicated facility of its kind in the city that provides intensive training to immigrant families and combines English language learning with early childhood education, pre-GED training, job readiness and life skills.

“Getting parents engaged in their child’s education is the top priority,” said Silvana Vasconcelos, who has been the director of the center since 2007.

Recently, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn joined Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, New York State Assemblymember Catherine Nolan and Queens Library CEO Thomas Galante at the center to welcome students to a new year of multigenerational learning.

Oftentimes, immigrants have a difficult time communicating with teachers or school staff that may prevent them from taking an active role in their children’s education and the center teaches parents those important skills.

“I learn the importance of going to school,” said Elia Rodriguez, who is from Mexico and has three daughters. “Here I learn to talk to the teachers.”

After school, parents can bring their kids into the center where they can receive help with their homework. In addition, the center also teaches parents how to use the computer, video editing skills, job readiness and life skills.

Selina Begum said she learned how to make piñatas at the center, and she even came up with a business plan with the help of the center’s instructors.

“I hope to own my own business,” said Selina Begum.

Overall, parents praised the center and said they would recommend it to other immigrant families in the neighborhood.

“This program has really changed out lives,” Begum said.

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