When Maria Tamayo Gonzalez and her two children moved to Johnson County from Mexico in 2012 they spoke almost no English. Her husband Adan already lived here and had a job in construction, and now the family was adjusting to life in the U.S. “Soon after I arrived in Merriam I received help for my family because my two children didn’t speak English,” she recalled. Among the first pieces of advice she received was that Johnson County Library offered assistance, classes and resources for Spanish-speaking patrons needing to learn English. “We received a lot of help,” Gonzalez said, “mostly with language and reading.”
In 2013, they were put in touch with Christine Peterson, who that year had been named Latino Services Outreach Librarian. Gonzalez says Peterson has been a huge help to her since 2013, with English classes on Saturdays at Oak Park Library, 9500 Bluejacket St., Overland Park, and, more recently, with citizenship studies. Her children received help with reading and homework. She discovered that Oak Park Library had a good selection of Spanish-language books, and the family has enjoyed both the Oak Park location and the Antioch branch in Merriam over the years.
Gonzalez then had her third child, a daughter who is now 3; both mother and daughter have benefited from the Library’s early literacy program and storytimes to build their language skills. “My little one is very happy to see Christine,” Gonzalez says. “She says, “I’m going to school for Christine, Mom.’” Gonzalez and her children are among about 30 families with whom Peterson works closely. “When we have patrons like that come to the Library, we try to give them as much information as possible,” Peterson said.
Most recently, Peterson has helped Maria Gonzalez with information and classes to gain U.S. citizenship. Maria and her youngest were also in Peterson’s 6 by 6 early literacy program in Spanish. “I encourage the language of the home,” Peterson said. “She will learn how to speak English very quickly because her parents have been reading to her in Spanish. It doesn’t confuse a child. I have many examples of children who have soared in English because their parents have read to them in their native language.”
Maria’s two older children are now 16 and 12. They primarily became fluent in English through school, but said the Library was also a place to improve their reading skills. At Peterson’s urging, they have also both volunteered in past years at Antioch Library and enjoyed giving back to the community. Her son organized and shelved books and supervised younger kids during meetings of Latino families at Antioch Library. “I liked helping out,” he said. Her daughter said after-school Library programs helped her become a voracious reader. “They had books in Spanish that we read, and they made learning English a lot easier,” she said. Before the pandemic, she also worked with younger children struggling to read and got feedback that it helped those students improve their grades.
Gonzalez’s husband, Adan, said they are all grateful to Christine Peterson and the Library for wonderful services and programs that have helped the family build a good home and life in Johnson County.
You can find Español and English Language Learner (ELL) programs such as Online Bilingual Storytime and Intermediate English-language Conversation Class for English Learners at the Johnson County Library. To learn more about the resources and materials available, visit the en Español page on jocolibrary.org.