Rosa Salinas has guided her older children through school over the years, but when the opportunity arose to attend classes about parenting and getting her youngest child prepared for school, she signed on.
"I have one (child) who is 21 years old; those times were different," she said of her older child's school experience. "I want to be on the same page."
Salinas was one of a roomful of parents — all moms except for Salinas' husband, Jose Sandoval — who are enrolled in a three-hour-a-week Avance Parent-Child Education program at Via Esperanza, a new family education and support center housed at Cook Middle School.
Via Esperanza, which opened in August and celebrated with a ribbon cutting Thursday night, houses infant and toddler care programs and a variety of parent classes including Avance, a nationally recognized program developed in San Antonio 38 years ago.
There is also a resource center where parents can access the Internet and schedule translation services.
The program targets low-income families. Its supporters knocked on doors around Cook's Sebastopol Road campus, alerting neighborhood families to the various programs being offered.
"The whole motto around this is helping struggling families and individuals get on their feet and be self-sufficient so they are not dependent on the system," said Lannie Medina, chief development officer with Community Action Partnership Sonoma County.
Funded by a nearly $1.4 million grant to CAP Sonoma from First 5 Sonoma County, and in partnership with Santa Rosa City Schools, Via Esperanza is expected to eventually include medical, dental and counseling resources as well as English classes. A newly inked partnership with Redwood Credit Union is expected provide up to $1 million in micro-loans to entrepreneurs who successfully complete an existing CAP Sonoma business course.
Bringing parents on campus to access resources and programs helps parents get more involved with their child's education, school officials said.
"It's the one place we know families have to come and students have to come," said Santa Rosa City Schools Superintendent Socorro Shiels. "We want to be the hub of the community."
Offering services to parents can help build skills and confidence to support their child's education, Medina said.
"It is absolutely no use to have a program where the parents are not in the room," Medina said. "It's just really critical to have (it be) multigenerational."
In addition to using rooms on the Cook campus, the plan calls for eventually opening a transitional kindergarten through sixth grade charter school on the site. The school, the focus of which has not been determined, would bridge the newly established infant, toddler and preschool programs with a linked elementary school experience, after which the students would enter the middle school, Cook Principal Patty Turner said.
Building relationships over more than the two years of middle school — and with students' families — will benefit students in the long run, Turner said.
"This way, my God, you have a good eight, nine, 12 years with them," she said. "If they are coming from the cradle, we are going to be a family for a long time."
The academic focus of the school will take into account what participating parents want from an elementary school, Shiels said.
"We are being very specific about the needs of the community and not artificially creating something and saying, 'Let's make this work,'" she said.