EVERETT — Blanca Galeana wants her children to know their voices matter.
If they understand their government and their community, they can help both be better.
She and her husband, Roberto, are immigrants living in south Everett.
“We want to learn how the system works,” she said.
They are trying to set an example: You follow the rules, but you need to understand how the rules are created and what to do if they should be changed.
The Galeanas and their five children are taking part in the Parent Leadership Training Institute and the Children’s Leadership Institute. The paired civics classes are offered for free by Washington Family Engagement, which is an educational nonprofit based in Snohomish County, and Everett Community College.
On Nov. 17, the topic of the day was “laws.”
The parents were learning about lobbying, advocacy organizations and reaching out to their representatives in Olympia.
“It’s a version of speaking up,” said Nancy Amidei, with the University of Washington School of Social Work. “It’s asking your elected officials to do something. It’s low-cost and easy.”
The children were sorted by age, with varying lessons all focused on the same subject. The Galeanas have students in every room.
Their youngest is with the preschoolers, who greet visitors with a round of hellos and holas.
The teacher there, Nadia Carriedo, and her three children all have graduated from the program. Now, her kids “have more vision, or view, of what they see in the city and they can see how departments work,” she said.
Invited back as a volunteer, Carriedo was leading the group in learning to recognize common street signs.
She held up the yellow one for “deer crossing,” asking the kids to name its meaning.
“La reindeer!” said Christopher Ruiz, 6, using the Spanish word for “the.”
A crosswalk sign? He had that one, too: “You vamos to cross.” (Vamos means “we go.”)
Hanging out today at the Parent Leadership Training Institute in south Everett, a civics class that welcomes children. The 3-5 group is learning about traffic signs. pic.twitter.com/56gJ54prtK— Rikki King 📝 (@rikkiking) November 17, 2018
When asked to name a law, Christopher mentioned wearing his seatbelt.
Yesenia Escobar, 16, and Jhoanna Sarmiento, 13, were assisting the teacher with the little ones. By one account, their mothers told them they had to volunteer. By another, it was earning them service hours for school.
The Galeanas’ 4-year-old, Melanie, was having a hard time remembering what the green light does.
“Stop … no, go!” she said. She got handed a paper “traffic ticket.”
The next age group was practicing songs, including 8-year-old Lindsey Galeana.
Her parents wanted her to take the class “so I can get a little more smarter,” she said.
A good law, she said, is “not to do bad things to other people and don’t tell them what to do.”
Her sister, 11-year-old Brittany, was in another room, fashioning a structure out of plastic straws. Her group had been asked to create a model town with “places and spaces they thought were important and/or lacking in their city.”
“I’m building a hospital to help people and animals, so I can have my own business,” she said.
Brittany wants to be a veterinarian, but she also likes to write stories and comics. She’s a fan of some rules, like those banning drugs, but maybe not the one about no cellphones at school, she said.
The girls’ oldest brother, 13-year-old Robert, has never been nervous about speaking out or presenting in a class, he said.
He knows that a law gets passed in this way: “First, it starts as a bill and then it gets sent to someplace and once it gets approved, then it has to get approved by the Senate, and then it goes to the president.”
He wants his younger siblings to know there are good and bad parts to belonging to a community.
“They have to stick to the good parts,” he said. One example? “Being nice to each other.”
Daniel Galeana, 10, is learning that if people want to change laws, they have to say something.
That and plenty of other lessons from the classes translate to everyday life.
The parents’ group started in 2016 and has seen 72 people graduate. The children’s class was added more recently, with 30 graduates assisted by six teenage volunteers. Each class runs for 11 weeks on Saturday mornings and Monday evenings.
This fall’s offering was expected to graduate 15 more adults and 24 children at a ceremony Saturday.
As part of the class, each parent completed a research project for which they received credit for a college course. One mother, Margarita Garcia, collected recipes for less harmful household products, because people who clean homes for a living are often exposed to those kinds of carcinogens, she said.
For the Galeanas, Roberto was working on getting speed bumps near a school crossing, and Blanca wanted to put together a program for parents on Casino Road who need help getting ready for GED prep classes.
She is studying accounting at Edmonds Community College after earning her GED, and she wants to encourage others to pursue similar goals.
She and her husband are advocates for their family, but they know that young people also must learn to speak for themselves.
That doesn’t mean the parents get overruled though. The couple laughed, remembering when Robert wanted to institute a new rule. He wanted $1 for taking out the trash, like his friend gets.
He was told that his friend is lucky, but he himself lives in a household of seven where everyone chips in.
Also, chores are not child labor, his parents pointed out, though they’re glad he’s citing laws.
Learn more about the Parent Leadership Training Institute and the Children’s Leadership Institute at www.wafamilyengagement.org. There are spots available in the spring class, as well as opportunities for donors.
The mission of Washington Family Engagement is to “help schools, parents and diverse communities learn how to work together to support children’s success in school and life.”