Puerta Abierta nursery school focuses on inclusive education and total Spanish immersion

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Madison Smith / Senior Daily Employee

Hemenway United Methodist Church. Puerto Abierta, which is located in the church, is Evanston’s only Spanish immersion preschool.

When Karla Koziura decided to send her two children to Puerta Abierta, Evanston’s only Spanish immersion preschool, she said she hoped to normalize bilingualism for her children.

“I grew up in the States feeling different and a little embarrassed that my mom spoke with an accent or that we had different and weird food at home,” Koziura said. “(Puerta Abierta) established that it was very normal to speak another language.”

Koziura’s passion for Spanish immersion from a young age for her children is shared by many families in Evanston. Since its foundation in 1997, Puerta Abierta has grown from just over 10 students to nearly 50 enrolled. Founder and Director María Weisgal said Puerta Abierta has always favored an inclusive educational approach.

Providing financial support to families who could not afford preschool education is paramount to the school’s mission, according to Weisgal.

“The name of the school is Puerta Abierta, and it means ‘open door’,” Weisgal said. “I chose this name because when we founded it, I decided that we were never going to say no to a child because he couldn’t pay.

Hemenway United Methodist Church, the church in which Puerta Abierta is located, provided financial support during the early years of operation, but the school itself is secular. Now, in addition to state grants, parents of children and alumni are raising funds to help those in financial constraints, according to Weisgal.

All of this helps fund culturally sensitive education, said Andrea Martinez, Weisgal’s office assistant. Throughout the year, children participate in multicultural activities, including an annual festival.

“At the start of the school year we talk about our families… how we come from different backgrounds,” said Martinez, who is also a parent of Puerta Abierta. “So we asked the kids to bring cards where they… tell us where their parents or grandparents were from. “

In addition to teaching children about family roots, Puerta Abierta supports families themselves, according to Liliana Rozo, whose son dated Puerta Abierta a few years ago.

Rozo said preschool staff and teachers gave her and her son more than just an educational opportunity. As a single mother, Rozo arrived in the country seven years ago and faced a custody battle soon after moving to the United States.

“School made a difference for me,” Rozo said. “They were absolutely understanding, caring and loving during my process (in court), and they supported us as a family.”

Besides the inclusive environment that Puerta Abierta offers families, Spanish immersion sets it apart from other nursery schools in Evanston. Weisgal said she wanted to provide a space where children can learn Spanish even earlier than kindergarten.

Koziura, whose two children are now in high school, said the experience of learning Spanish in preschool has reconfigured the way her children think.

“If there is a word with a Latin root, they might understand it because of the Spanish (which they learned),” Koziura said. “They make those connections and use associations with language that someone else might not be able to.”

While language development in Puerta Abierta is a fundamental strength, the support of the staff and the commitment of the parents form a basis for the preschool community, of which some parents, like Koziura, are still a part.

“We made a ton of friends (family) at Puerta Abierta Kindergarten, friends that we are still friends with today,” Koziura said. “It really just created a base for us and a base for our whole social life.”

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @swarthout_iris

S associatestories:
School board plans to expand two-way immersion program

District 65 officials offer two-way immersion program at Bessie Rhodes School



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