IMMOKALEE — Local teachers and education professionals from RCMA are the first guests on the new “Nuestros Niños” (“Our Kids”), a Spanish-language program heard on Solmart Media’s radio stations throughout southwest Florida, which includes Immokalee radio as well as the counties of Highlands, Hardee, DeSoto, Polk, Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota, Manatee, Pinellas, and portions of Hillsborough.
The new half-hour weekly program covers educational topics focusing on the needs of Spanish-speaking parents who are now involved in distance learning with their children. “Nuestros Niños” will air for the first time on Monday, May 11 at 11:30 a.m. on La Zeta 105.3 FM; and La Número Uno 99.1 FM and 1280 AM. Experts from RCMA will be featured in the premier episode as well as future editions.
Marcela Estevez, director of Student and Family Services at RCMA’s Wimauma Academy; David Peñaflor, coordinator of Community Learning Centers, and SanJuana Schellhas, a dual language teacher at RCMA’s Immokalee Community School, recorded the first and a second episode with host Geri Chaffee, education advocate and founder of Dreamers Academy Dual language school in Sarasota, Florida.
“Nuestros Niños” was the brainchild of Mercedes Soler, president of Solmart Media. She was inspired by the memory of her mother’s lifetime commitment to education in her native Cuba and later in the United States.
“We saw an opportunity to bring a little bit of wisdom and comfort to our listeners, reminding them that they have always been their children’s first teacher, and that their home is their first school,” said Soler. “We also wished to feature all the education talent present in our local schools; so many Hispanic teachers who will have a new vehicle to shine in their first language and engage our Latinx families.”
Co-producing “Nuestros Niños” is Geri Chaffee, founder of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Sarasota, and a longtime advocate for education equity within Florida’s Hispanic student population. Chaffee is the force behind the new Dreamers Academy, a Spanish-immersion public charter school expected to open in August 2021 in Sarasota. Soler and Chaffee are crediting Abriendo Puertas for sharing their parent engagement curriculum, which has been used by RCMA for the past 10 years.
“We were so impressed with RCMA, which has been ahead of the curve in bilingual and early education for years,” Chaffee said. “We wanted to do something to help Spanish-speaking families who feel lost dealing with so many issues around Covid-19,” she said. “We are hoping to bring them resources, knowledge and tips that will empower them to help their children succeed now and into the future as they go back to school and hopefully, to college and rewarding careers.”
Chaffee reached out to Isabel Garcia, RCMA’s executive director, the state’s largest non-profit provider of early childhood education. Serving 6,500 children and their families in 21 Florida counties, RCMA has most recently been providing distance learning, meals, supplies, emergency rent and utilities assistance. “Geri’s enthusiasm captured me from the moment she called, and I knew she was someone who would make a difference in the lives of the Hispanic community we serve,” García said. “We were excited to help produce the first two episodes of “Nuestros Niños” and look forward to developing additional weekly episodes to expand the reach throughout the communities we serve.”
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