Some folks in Washington, D.C., like what the Learning Community is doing for Latino families in South Omaha.

The Learning Community Center of South Omaha has been selected as a Bright Spot in Hispanic education, one of 230 organizations honored nationwide.

The honor is given by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, Bright Spots are programs, models, organizations or initiatives that are helping close the achievement gap. The initiative seeks to spur innovation and spread promising practices for increasing achievement.

The South Omaha center teaches Hispanic parents how to speak English, how to navigate the school system and how to help their children learn at home and in school.

Parents who are initially reluctant to get involved in their children’s school quickly become more engaged, communicate better with teachers and set high expectations that are important for getting kids into college, according to Learning Community officials.

The programs are paid for through tax levies on property in the 11 Learning Community school districts in the metro Omaha area.

Nearly 225 parents of preschool-age children take seven hours of family learning classes and workshops weekly, officials said.

The center will be listed in a national catalog that recognizes model programs and organizations working to close the achievement gap.

The Learning Community Council expanded the programs this year from the center at 23rd and M Streets to Gateway Elementary School in the Omaha Public Schools. The programs also are provided at the Indian Hill Educare Center, 3110 W St.

Learning Community officials consider their South Omaha programs among their most popular and effective. The most recent program evaluations funded by the Learning Community found that parents improved their English language skills and their parent-child interactions.

Parents reported increased levels of confidence, evaluators said.

So far, however, the impact on academic achievement over the long haul is hard to demonstrate. Eventually officials hope to gather hard data to prove that the programs work. In the meantime, they point to testimonials from principals and preschool children, who have not yet advanced into the elementary grades when state testing occurs.

Dozens of parents, some carrying children, gathered at the South Omaha center Tuesday afternoon to celebrate the national recognition with cake, juice boxes and coffee.

Lilia Ponce, 38, is starting her second year of the two-year program at the center. She has four children, ages 14, 12, 4 and 1. Ponce heard about the program from a friend and wanted to improve her English skills.

“Before I started, I was thinking that I talk well, but sometimes people say, ‘What did you say? I don’t understand.’ ”

She said she’s had a good experience. In one lesson, parents were role-playing to simulate a parent-teacher conference, she said.

“They gave us confidence to talk with teachers,” she said.

Lorraine Chang, chairwoman of the Learning Community Council, said the large turnout of parents was a strong endorsement for the programs.

“We believe in our families and our families’ role in educating their children, and we believe in the work that’s going on at this center,” she said.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1077,

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