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Petty Officer 1st Class Demetrio Roque got command permission to spend some time helping his daughter Leila in the “Mamas and Papas” English as a Second Language class at The Sullivans School in Yokosuka. Tagalog is their first language.

Petty Officer 1st Class Demetrio Roque got command permission to spend some time helping his daughter Leila in the “Mamas and Papas” English as a Second Language class at The Sullivans School in Yokosuka. Tagalog is their first language. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

Petty Officer 1st Class Demetrio Roque got command permission to spend some time helping his daughter Leila in the “Mamas and Papas” English as a Second Language class at The Sullivans School in Yokosuka. Tagalog is their first language.

Petty Officer 1st Class Demetrio Roque got command permission to spend some time helping his daughter Leila in the “Mamas and Papas” English as a Second Language class at The Sullivans School in Yokosuka. Tagalog is their first language. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

Atsuko Timmerman practices English with her son Takato Tuesday in the “Mamas and the Papas” English as a Second Language class.

Atsuko Timmerman practices English with her son Takato Tuesday in the “Mamas and the Papas” English as a Second Language class. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

The Sullivans teacher Patrice Nome holds a note written by Kristine Alba, one of her ESL students.

The Sullivans teacher Patrice Nome holds a note written by Kristine Alba, one of her ESL students. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Japanese speaker Miki McCaslin and her 6-year-old son, Alex, do their homework together — they’re in the same English class. This week, they’re writing love notes.

“These love notes are better than money,” said teacher Patrice Noma, who was on the receiving end of several from her English as a Second Language students at The Sullivans School on Tuesday. Students in her “Mamas and Papas” ESL class can be 4 years old or 40.

Noma started the “Mamas and Papas” class five years ago to bring parents in for ESL education with their kids. Together they sit on the school’s tiny chairs reading and learning.

Given the Navy’s multiculturalism — it was the most diverse branch in the military as of 2003 — Noma has no shortage of students or parents needing a little extra language support. Most speak Japanese or Tagalog, one of the main languages used in the Phillipines, but she also has had students who speak Spanish, Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese.

“Parents who speak foreign languages don’t think they can help their kids learn English, so ‘Mamas and Papas’ empowers them,” Noma said. “Teachers are not as powerful as parents, and we need to reach the parents to reach the children.”

Noma extends the invitation to all of her students’ parents — there are 23 this year, she said. But, she added, many parents don’t come. “Often the ones who need it the most aren’t here,” Noma said. “Work has a lot to do with it.”

But some active-duty servicemembers get permission from their command to attend the classes, like Petty Officer 1st Class Demetrio Roque, who learns with his daughter, Leila.

“English makes us flexible — we can go anywhere and talk to whomever,” Roque said. It also helps in the Navy workplace, he said: “There are a lot of different cultures here, and we’re learning how to be flexible in each one.”

E-mail helps with attendance, as Noma can send out her own “love note” reminders to the parents, she said.

Nancy Alba brings both of her children, ages 6 and 3, to class. “I come here to support them,” Alba said. “My husband and I speak Tagalog at home, but we want them to learn English. We practice every day.”


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