Adelante Mujeres Celebrating 10 Years: Part 4 of 10

Here's the latest installment in the series celebrating Adelante Mujeres' 10th anniversary, written by Carrie Schmid and published in the News Times.

Adelante Mujeres provides a holistic approach to education.

"Community Group Provides Educational Building Blocks"

Teresa Puga believes that to be successful, children must have a good foundation. For her youngest son and daughter, Eduardo and Karen Garcia Puga, she found the building blocks of this foundation in Adelante Mujeres’ Early Childhood Education program.

Four of Puga’s eight children attended early childhood programs, and Puga says she has particularly noticed the difference the Adelante Mujeres program has made for Eduardo, 14, and Karen, 11. “I’m seeing the benefits,” she said, “because they are doing well in school.”

The education program at Adelante Mujeres “prepared us to go to kindergarten,” said Karen, who will be in the sixth-grade at Laurel Ridge Middle School in Sherwood next year. “They taught us a lot of things we learned in school.”

This September, Adelante Mujeres celebrates its tenth anniversary and the accomplishment of its bilingual Early Childhood Education program, which is offered to the children of students attending the Adelante Mujeres Adult Education program for Latina women.

“Ninety-eight percent of students in the ECE program meet state and federal benchmarks in early literacy skills and social and emotional development,” said Bridget Cooke, executive director of Adelante Mujeres, who attributes this success to a team of dedicated teachers and “the commitment of the parents to see their children thrive.” Adelante Mujeres started as a project of Centro Cultural in 1999. The group of Latina women that met once a week were led by Cooke and Barbara Raymond. In 2002, when Adelante Mujeres became an independent organization, the program moved to St. Bede’s Episcopal Church in Forest Grove and, a year later, a few blocks away to its current location at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church.

It grew from 15 women and their children to about 30 women and their children, ages one through five. Today, students attend classes five days a week for about four hours a day during the school year.

Before Puga and her children started going to Adelante Mujeres classes, she remembers spending most of her days at her Hillsboro apartment. “I wasted time watching TV,” she said. Eduardo, too, remembers the isolation. “I almost never met new people,” he said.

On her way to the laundry room, Puga would notice a group of Latina women meeting once a week. One day she got up the courage to ask about joining the group and was immediately integrated. Eduardo and Karen attended Adelante Mujeres’ ECE program through their preschool years and Puga remained in the program until 2010. She and her children say Adelante Mujeres changed their lives.

“In Adelante Mujeres I met a lot of people and it made my self-esteem stronger,” Eduardo said. “I learned how to be a friend, how to talk, to do activities. We ran around. I liked it a lot.”

Eduardo said he also appreciates having learned Spanish in the program. “A lot of kids don’t know how to read in Spanish,” he said. “We learned from preschool how to read and write in Spanish. Most of my brothers, after they grew up, they had to take Spanish classes for their jobs.”

As part of her Adult Education courses, Puga said she learned the importance of her role as the children’s teacher. She shared the information with her husband, Silviano. One day, Puga remembered, she was too busy to read with Karen so the little girl went to her father. “You have to read to me. Mama is busy,” Puga remembers her daughter saying. “He read to her,” she added.

In addition to parenting, mothers get a full range of classes at Adelante Mujeres: math, Spanish, literature, nutrition, personal development, leadership and English language development. Classes support students in obtaining GEDs, advancing their careers and preparing their children for kindergarten, Cooke said. Even though she hasn’t been in the program for two years, Puga is still taking English and math classes and is in the process of obtaining U.S. citizenship. Puga said she never plans to return to her homebound life, and in her future she said she sees herself doing volunteer work and helping people.

“Never backwards, always forward,” she said. Karen said she notices the change in her mother, since Adelante Mujeres. “She believes more in herself,” Karen said. “She now says, ‘Oh, I can do this’ or ‘I can do that.’”

Now Karen is working toward her own accomplishments. She said that she hopes to become a lawyer someday, but in her free time she wants to help children like herself by helping their mothers. “My mom was born in Mexico and didn’t get a lot of education,” Karen said. “There are a lot of mothers that need more help.”