In a California elementary school, parents have a classroom of their own

 Yordanos Habte hands out practice absence slips to her classmates at Fruitvale Elementary School in Oakland, California on Oct. 1, 2018. She is a student in a family literacy class at her child's school. The class help parents learn skills, such as writing notes to their childrens' teachers.

Yordanos Habte hands out practice absence slips to her classmates at Fruitvale Elementary School in Oakland, California on Oct. 1, 2018. She is a student in a family literacy class at her child's school. The class help parents learn skills, such as writing notes to their childrens' teachers.

Inside a classroom at Fruitvale Elementary School in Oakland, California, about 20 women are practicing spelling out loud in English.

They’re the mothers, aunts and grandmothers of children at the school. Four mornings each week, the women — immigrants from Central America, Mexico, the Middle East, Asia and the Caribbean — drop off their children and then head into a classroom of their own to learn English.

Wahbiai Alqaifi, a mother from Yemen, has been in the US for 15 years. She has six children, one of them a fourth grader at Fruitvale. She used to struggle to understand English in her daily life, she says, but the class helped her expand her vocabulary.

“When I go the store, when I go the hospital, I understand a lot,” Alqaifi says.

Oakland Unified School District is one of more than 100 school districts nationwide working on family literacy, teaching parents English and helping them engage in their students’ education, which in turn helps the children do better in school. Adult education programs struggle for funding, so these programs are not widespread across the country. But in the Oakland schools that offer the program, principals and teachers say the benefits are real: Parents get more involved in their children’s classrooms and are able to help more with homework. And the fact that Oakland’s program is held inside elementary, middle and high schools is part of what makes it work.