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Jeanette's Story: Multicultural,
Multitasking, Multitalented Mom
Hang around during pickup or drop-off time at Bemis Elementary in Troy, Mich., and you'll hear the usual hubbub of hellos, goodbyes, and don't-forget-your-backpacks. Listen more closely and you'll realize these exchanges are frequently conducted in a variety of languages — as many as 28, in fact.
It's been a challenge in this largely immigrant community to make parents feel part of the school, especially when English is their second language. But thanks to the ongoing efforts of one particularly energetic volunteer, the cultural divide is being conquered.
"If I wasn't a registered nurse, I swear I would be an event planner because I just love
planning parties, carnivals, and other get-togethers," says Jeanette Tanafranca. Three years ago when her eldest started kindergarten at Bemis, she wasted no time getting involved in the PTO. Her first assignment? Organizing the school's online shopping fundraiser. Maintaining momentum, she was the chairwoman for the annual Fun Fair the following year. She's currently room mom in her middle child's kindergarten class, and to top it all off she's been PTO vice president for two years running.
Given her own level of activity, Tanafranca recognizes the importance of building parent involvement. Toward that end, she is the current driving force behind Cultural Coffee Mornings, a monthly social event conceived a couple of years ago to address the special cultural mix that exists at Bemis. The goal is to create a welcoming atmosphere where parents can come and converse, talk about different cultures, and bring some dishes to share.
"There are no translators. Most of the parents speak English, and they speak it better than they think they do. So it really boosts their confidence when they can be understood," Tanafranca says. At that point, it's easy to convince them to take on a small volunteer role at the school, a role that often grows as they become more comfortable.
Research shows that children do better in school when parents are involved in their education. Attendance goes up, as do grades, while delinquency goes down, and sunnier attitudes prevail. Tanafranca says her own children's faces simply light up when they see her around school. It's the primary reason she volunteers — that and the fact she also enjoys giving back. Some of the other programs she's behind at Bemis include offering CPR classes for parents twice a year and lice checks for kids three times a year.
But it doesn't stop there. Since her family is Filipino, she's active in a Filipino community organization as well as the Filipino Nurses Association. This is all in addition to her primary jobs of raising three children as well as working 32 hours a week as a registered nurse.
To further illustrate just how tireless Tanafranca is, she recently became involved in a global nonprofit foundation that offers free online learning tools for kids ages 5 to 12. She applied to be a volunteer storyboard designer and was assigned to develop a module for the math section. "I just completed a multiplication math module with the theme of 'North America Native American Village' that's currently with a production team in India. I can't wait to see it!" she says.
Clearly, Jeanette Tanafranca takes multiculturalism to heart — and Bemis Elementary, her own family, and kids around the world are better for it.
Writer: June Allan Corrigan
Photo: Gani Ricarte