Fairfax School District Helps Parents Gain Citizenship, Learn English

Thursday February 22, 2024

Parents of students in the Fairfax School District (FSD) are becoming United States citizens thanks to special courses offered at the district’s Parent Education & Resource Center. Fairfax serves a small community on the southeast side of Bakersfield, with a large population seeking citizenship. About 30 parents have passed their citizenship tests since the classes started in 2019.

The district teamed up with Bakersfield Adult School to provide two classes per week to the community free of charge. The adult school also offers free classes for English learners twice per week.

Jose Quintero is the director of the Fairfax Parent Education & Resource Center. He says parents have requested these classes be offered through the district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), which, as a requirement, seeks community input. The district sent out surveys to parents asking how they could help support them, and parents requested the classes, among other resources and programs.

“We get quite a lot of feedback from them when it’s anonymous,” Quintero said. “One of the most popular ones was having ESL classes and then having citizenship classes. Our parents want to be able to help their children at school.”

Javier Parra-Martinez teaches citizenship classes in the mornings. He is a naturalized citizen himself who has first-hand experience in the process.

“I tell them, ‘I’ve been where you’re at; I know what it feels like. If I could be here, so can you,’” he said. 

Quintero gives a lot of credit to Parra-Martinez.  

“He brings a lot of enthusiasm into the class and delivers where the parents feel comfortable, and they love to come to class,” he said. “He does a great job.”  

Javier Parra-Martinez teaches citizenship classes.

In addition to providing curriculum, the resource center helps prospective citizens fill out and send in their applications and prepares them for their interviews.

“We will take you from point A to point Z,” said Parra-Martinez. “You will be taken care of, always. We have the whole package for them here.” 

Community Schools Assistant Maria Garcia Magana says she wishes her parents had access to a program like this when she went to school in Fairfax. 

“My parents didn’t participate in anything, and neither did our neighbors. They were all Spanish-speaking,” she said. “I think this is awesome for the community to come together and we can help them help their kids.”

Chad Provensal, Assistant Principal with Bakersfield Adult School, says it was a no-brainer to first team up with Fairfax to offer English classes and then add citizenship classes. He says he hopes to expand the citizenship courses to other districts across the county. 

Parents and community members take citizenship courses.

“The need is there in the community, so ideally, you would want to hook up with other schools and provide the same kind of service,” Provensal said. “We just try to remove as many barriers as possible, meeting them where they’re at.”

Four former students recently passed their citizenship tests and came back to speak about the program. Some of them are parents of Fairfax students, but others are community members who heard about the program through word of mouth. It took each of them a few months to complete the citizenship process.  

“For me, the best part of these classes is, I don’t have only one teacher, everyone helps,” said Carmen Montoya, who is currently enrolled in the English class.

Miu Ling Chui agrees, saying: “I like this class because it’s not like a class, it’s like a family. Everyone helps each other.”

Iran Cruz, Carmen Montoya, Miu Ling Chui, and Sabreen Qurain (not pictured) gain U.S. citizenship.

Montoya says she hopes to continue her classes to become fluent in English and then apply for a job at the school.

Quintero says the resource center is proud to be able to help parents with their resumes and even find jobs in the district. 

“We actually have quite a few parents who have gone through our program, ESL, citizenship and are now working in our cafeteria,” he said.  

FSD received a planning grant from the California Community Schools Partnership Program, and recently, the district applied for a Community Schools implementation grant. Using grant funds, the district plans to expand the Parent Education & Resource Center services and spread awareness throughout the broader community.

Quintero says you don’t have to be a parent to utilize their services, and in fact, many people come from other areas to access resources, information, assistance, and more.

“[We’re] truly trying to be a hub for the community, to make sure that we can provide those resources to our families, which directly impacts our students,” Quintero said.

For more information, or to utilize services, call the Fairfax Parent Education & Resource Center at (661) 366-6021.

By Katie Avery

By Katie Avery

Katie Avery joined the Kern County Superintendent of Schools in 2023 as a Communications Specialist. As a former journalist and marketing professional, her passions include media and storytelling. Before joining KCSOS, Avery worked for various local TV stations as well as the health care industry.