Families team to learn

Twice a week, Verónica Zarate attends first grade with her son Justin. Together, they learn how to read and write in English.

Six-year-old Justin says he likes that his mom can help him with homework.

"I like that she helps me learn," said the Northmead Elementary School student last week as he read 'Mooncake' with his mom. Later, the two matched small drawings of images with corresponding words, such as jam, sun and pig.

"I'm better at school, I learn more," Justin said.

Nearly 70 parents participate in a national family literacy program at three Patterson elementary schools -- Northmead, Walnut Grove and Grayson Charter. The goal is to teach parents English, and get them involved in their children's education.

Some of the parents are illiterate in Spanish and English, while most parents read and write at the sixth-grade level, officials said.

In its first year at Patterson Joint Unified School District, the Toyota Family Literacy Program is funded by the automaker. Since 2003, five districts a year have won grants to bring literacy projects to public schools.

Patterson is the smallest district to win the funding -- $600,000 over three years.

The program focuses on immigrant Latino families because many of them face education barriers -- students from poor families with parents who have little education and who don't speak English at home tend to be less successful than their counterparts, said Sharon Darling, president and founder of the National Center for Family Literacy. The center coordinates the program with Toyota and school districts.