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Editor's Note: This school year Lincoln Public Schools was awarded a Toyota Family Learning Grant of $175,000. LPS was one of five recipients and the only school district to be selected for the funding, chosen by the National Center for Families Learning. The program is being piloted at Everett, Norwood Park and West Lincoln elementary schools this year, bringing parents and children together to learn in the classroom, home and community. Family Literacy was already a part of LPS learning, but this offers a new, expanded approach.

My husband and I are the parents of five children, and we have made their education priority number one. That means we had to make a commitment to their education and our role in it. One of the key first steps for me was to enroll — and eventually graduate from — the Everett Elementary School Family Literacy program.

It is because of this program that my first- and second-graders are used to seeing me in the hallways of Everett, and their friends know I am 'so-and-so’s' mom. That makes me proud.

I'm also not too proud to say I needed help. I needed help learning English, I needed help understanding how I helped my kids with homework, or how I could make sure my children were learning what they needed to know. I needed help in keeping a schedule for our busy family (don't we all!), and I needed to learn that it was OK, in fact great, for my children to teach me things.

Family Learning and Literacy gives us lessons in English in the same school our children attend — and gives us lessons in how we can help our children learn. It makes us feel welcome in school, and welcome in this city.

It wasn't always this way. In Mexico we lived in a small town with no access to a school within two hours. Here in Lincoln, I am minutes away from my children’s school, teachers and principal. Through this Toyota Family Learning Program, I too have received quite an education: I've learned a second language, I've researched cultures and soon I will present my research to staff at Everett.

The Family Literacy and Learning programs are free, though we do bake food for bake sales to raise money for the school, and we do help with school events. We don't mind. It's our way to pay back for the gift of education that we ourselves are receiving.

My friend, Alicia, who also went to the Family Literacy program, says she sees the impact in her family too. She has two children, one at Everett and one at Park Middle School. We see other moms tear up when they must, for economic reasons, stop attending the program because they need to find work.

Alicia and I are fortunate, not only that we get to keep education as a priority, but because we live in Lincoln. This is a community with a school district that appreciates our involvement, teaches us ways to help our own children learn and provides us with life skills that we need to be successful. Coming to the United States and Lincoln wasn't a short-term plan for us. It was a commitment we made to provide better for our kids.

My oldest child will graduate soon from Lincoln High School. It never would have occurred to us that he could attend a college. Now that is within reach. He will set an example for his siblings that education, when made a priority, opens the door to potential. I hope he understands this and appreciates it.

When I see him make those decisions about his future — and I can see that education is his top priority — then I know I have succeeded.

Maria Pesina Cruz wants to encourage other families to learn about and consider the new Family Learning and Literacy programs.

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