The parents had spent long days working at hotels, construction sites and restaurants, but when night fell, they showed up at Park View High School in Sterling ready for two hours of English lessons.
"If you don't speak English, you don't get good pay," said Jesus Campos of Sterling, a cook at Nordstrom in Tysons Corner. "If you don't get good pay, you have to work double."
Campos and his wife, Dora, who also works at Nordstrom, are in the advanced class, learning how to communicate with their children's schools and teachers. Last week, they practiced words to use with the school nurse. "She tells Lila to close her left eye and read the line," they repeated.
Meanwhile, their son Kevin, 9, was a few doors down in his own class. The Family English Learning Academy (FELA), a pilot program funded with a $156,462 grant from the federal No Child Left Behind program, brings families to school two nights a week.
"They should learn more English," Kevin Campos said of his parents, who were born in El Salvador and came to the United States in the early 1990s. "It's good."
FELA is one of more than a half-dozen programs and services started in the past year to serve Loudoun County's rapidly growing Hispanic population.
Between the 1990 and 2000 Census, the number of Hispanics in Loudoun more than tripled to 10,089, or 5.95 percent of the population. That's almost as many as the 11,683 African Americans recorded in the census.
But people who work with the Spanish-speaking community said the number is much higher because illegal immigrants do not fill out census forms. Most of the new immigrants are believed to be from El Salvador and Peru.
FELA opened Feb. 12 for 40 families whose children were identified by teachers of English as a Second Language in Sterling's public schools as not receiving enough help with homework because of their parents' lack of English.
"We're really trying to reach them at the very beginning when they need a boost," said FELA coordinator Katy Myers. She said the 40 families are only a small fraction of immigrant families that need such a program. There are so many Spanish-speaking parents in Sterling that they started their own association within the PTSA in May 2002.
"All the schools want parents to be involved with the schools, but . . . in some of the countries, parents don't get involved in the schools," said Isabel Lynch, an ESL teacher at Park View born in Argentina. "The only time the parents go is when the child gets in trouble."
That tendency can lead to misimpressions, Lynch said. "I am so happy about this program because it's given a new view that [immigrant] parents want to be more involved with the child." Most participants in the academy come from El Salvador and Peru, she said, but the program also serves parents from Portugal and the Middle East.
Susan Curtis, executive director of the Loudoun Abused Women's Shelter (LAWS), said the number of Spanish speakers the group helps has doubled in three years. A grant from the Freddie Mac Foundation enabled the shelter to hire a Spanish-speaking case worker and start a domestic abuse support group for Spanish speakers.
Before hiring the case worker, the shelter had to route Spanish calls to its crisis line through an AT&T translation service. "We had a $900 language line bill one month," Curtis said.
LAWS also runs a Spanish-language session of its nurturing classes for young parents.
"Our numbers generally reflect the demographics of the county -- it's an equal opportunity misery," Curtis said. "Part of it, I think, is that they knew we were here, and it got around their community."
Promotoras de Salud, or health promoters, is using older women to teach Middleburg's community of Mexican immigrants about good oral health care, from brushing and flossing to making dental appointments. Women selected for the program are those whom the community considers elders and to whom other women turn to for advice.
Susan-Jane Stack, special projects chief at Loudoun social services, just hired a bilingual coordinator for the program, which is based on one used in San Diego and will be run by St. Stephen's Catholic Church in Middleburg, which has a large Hispanic congregation.
Children are often U.S. citizens, Stack explained, and can obtain dental care through Medicaid. But if their parents are not citizens, they miss out. "It's one of the biggest things they bring up and need help with," Stack said. "There are resources for other parts of your body, but there are very few resources within Loudoun County for oral care."
Immigrants are more receptive when the message comes from within their own community, Stack said.
The Virginia Regional Transportation Association used the same principle to increase ridership on its Safe-T-Ride bus. The Town of Leesburg, Loudoun County and the VRTA, a nonprofit organization, started the bus service a year ago after police noticed more people crossing the busy Route 15 Bypass on foot to reach Wal-Mart, the Loudoun social and health services building and Shoppers Food Warehouse.
When the free bus began running a continuous loop around the intersection of Route 15 and Edwards Ferry Road, only about 10 people rode every week, according to VRTA Chief Executive Mark McGregor. Now the bus carries about 250 a week. McGregor said VRTA reached out to community groups to help publicize the shuttle.
"We've had to learn a lot about the cultural difference," said Lyle Werner of the Leesburg traffic committee, which worked with VRTA on the shuttle. "There are some cultures where there is such an unrest and distrust of the government, where you get on the bus to go someplace and are never heard of again. So they have a distrust of the government and anything free. . . . If you get a couple of people riding it and they have a good experience, they tell others."
MotherNet is one group that spread the message about Safe-T-Ride, McGregor said. MotherNet serves 59 new families that Executive Director Judith Card said were "at risk for poor outcomes."
Through home visits, counseling and referrals, MotherNet helps parents after the birth of their first child or their first child born in the United States.
About 85 percent of MotherNet families speak only Spanish, Card said. This fall, MotherNet added Spanish-language support groups for families that it did not have the resources to include in the intensive program.
"It just felt like it happened overnight," said Card of the growth in the Spanish-speaking community. "I think that right now the county is doing a really great job pulling together."
MotherNet, for example, translates materials for other programs seeking to reach the Hispanic residents. The group translated Safe-T-Ride's flier into Spanish.
The Loudoun Free Clinic has volunteer translators for its largely immigrant clientele. Eighty percent to 90 percent of the clinic's patients speak Spanish, according to Werner, also the clinic's executive director.
The clinic opened last week in new quarters in the old Loudoun Hospital site in Leesburg. Any low-income adult county resident who lacks health insurance qualifies for service. Many of the patients are immigrants working in service jobs in the county, Werner said, but a few out-of-work tech employees have come, too.
That changing mix exemplifies Laura Valle's point that some of the services she hopes to provide through a new advocacy group, Comite la Voz (Committee of the Voice), will benefit people other than immigrants.
"You can't even say the Hispanic population because it is so diverse," Valle said. "I think a lot of the programs we would be doing would benefit anyone and all low-income residents."
After the group gets going, Valle hopes to register voters in shopping malls and perhaps establish other education programs on the Promotoras de Salud model.
"The timing and the interest was never there" for a Hispanic advocacy group in Loudoun, said Valle, who was born in the United States, married a man from El Salvador and is raising her children -- Isaiah, 5, Isabella, 4, and Sophia, 11 days old -- to speak English and Spanish.