By Angela Barbosa
As I entered the Western Connecticut State University Campus Center Ballroom on the Westside campus on June 4, the scenario was a bit different from the formal setting of the class graduation I was accustomed to attending. Children playing, parents mingling, folks eating cake and sharing refreshments… an unexpected surprise that reflected the energy of the 26 parents that graduated from the 2015 Danbury Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI).
The ceremony started with a musical presentation by Los Cachaseros, followed by the opening remarks of MC Estela Camacho. Daryle Dennis, WCSU Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, highlighted the interpretation of the U.S. national anthem by Alexandra Prendergast during his greetings and the importance of having the PLTI classes held at the campus again.
A unique opportunity for parents to roll up their sleeves and get involved in their children’s education, the PLTI is a 20-week curriculum developed through the Connecticut Commission on Children to provide parents’ skill building to support their involvement in the community and in schools to improve children’s lives and education. Each PLTI student completes a community project in order to graduate, covering a range of issues in the areas of health, safety and education.
For Manuela Gonzalez, a class of 2015 keynote speaker and student who hosted a support group for parents with disabilities, while also providing information and resources, “PLTI means possibility, the means and the blueprint to create changes.”
Danbury Children First is the first in the State of Connecticut and in the nation to offer concurrent English and Spanish classes of the PLTI, and Danbury is the first in the state to offer PLTI in Spanish.
“This group has made history. Never before there has been a simultaneous class of English PLTI and Spanish PLTI… you have made history!” said Patti Keckeisen, a PLTI facilitator.
Danbury Children First has offered PLTI for parents in the greater Danbury area for 18 consecutive years, with 322 parents completing PLTI since the first Danbury PLTI class in 1998.
“When we started this class we were all so skeptical to give speeches even in our first language, Spanish, and now I am here thanks to the PLTI. We learned to advocate for our children, who are the future of our city, our country and the future of the world!” said keynote speaker Angel Saquinaula, a 2015 parent leader on behalf of his peers.
Children from both the English and Spanish PLTI classes participate in the Children’s Leadership Training Institute (CLTI) while their parents attend PLTI. Katherine Tucker and Gloria Mora, both PLTI coordinators, proudly presented the certificates to the graduates and the children presented the items that were purchased for the kids at Danbury Hospital to Susan Kania, Donor Relations at Danbury Hospital.
The CLTI curriculum is a literacy-based program that allows children to discover and develop leadership skills within their community. This year, the 52 children in the CLTI program engaged in a group project, in which they raised money through recycling deposit bottles and independent fundraisers, to purchase toys and books and develop activities for children who are sick at Danbury Hospital.
“Parents with leadership skills can lead at home, in the neighborhood and in public policy,” said Elaine Zimmerman, executive director of the Connecticut Commission on Children. “Danbury, through Danbury Children First, has ensured that parents have substantive opportunities to lead for their children and other children.”
“After these 20 weeks, we can be sure that from now on we can count on 24 new parent leaders,” concluded Saquinaula.
Danbury’s PLTI is made possible through partnership with the Connecticut Commission on Children and Western CT State University, and through funding from the CT PIRC/Parent Trust Fund, Bedoukian Research, Branson Ultrasonics, United Way of Western CT, the City of Danbury and individual donors. For more information, visit http://www.danburychildrenfirst.org.