Our Health California

From 1990 to 2010, the Latino population in Napa County tripled. Now, more than 50 percent of the students in the Napa Valley Unified School District are Latino. 

These students’ parents often face language, cultural, or other barriers to becoming involved in their child’s education. Maria Ruiz, lead coordinator for Napa Valley Parent University, was thinking of ways to solve this problem when Queen of the Valley Medical Center approached her in 2009.

Queen of the Valley’s Community Outreach Department and St. Joseph Health's Community Partnership Fund were able to provide the funding to kick-start Parent University.

More than 1,600 parents enroll in Parent University each year. Enrollees can pick courses on subjects like English as a second language, parenting techniques, nutrition, and mental health. Ruiz says some of the courses have a special focus on how parents can keep their families healthy.

This lesson is incredibly apparent in courses like the one on Covered California, which teaches parents how to enroll in health insurance and how it works, and the Cooking Matters program, which teaches them how to shop for healthy foods on a budget.

Parent University coordinators wanted to make it as easy as possible for parents to attend, so the classes are free and child care is provided. While the program doesn’t award an educational degree, parents who take more than 20 hours of classes are invited to the graduation ceremony.

Even though some parents are hesitant when they first enroll, they end up getting a lot out of it. Ruiz says that some of the parents have gone on to become class instructors or even help coordinate the Parent University program.

Ruiz says that this is just one example of how the program helps turn parents into leaders. They’ve also seen great results in linking parents with volunteer programs at their children’s schools that fit their skills.

Ruiz wishes that her parents had a resource like this when she was in school. She was the first to graduate from high school, and then college, in her family. Now, she’s proud to make a difference by working with St. Joseph Health.

Parent University continues to expand and is currently in six elementary schools and three pre-schools in Napa County. Recently, Parent University has started in schools in neighboring counties.

“I feel very fortunate to have the privilege to come to work every day and have an impact on my community,” Ruiz says.