ANAHEIM, Calif. — At first, Tomasa Galeana got strange looks from her classmates at Thomas Edison Elementary School.

Her legs were too long for the short, squat classroom chairs. She didn't play kickball during recess. She wore makeup and carried a purse.

These days, though, the 39-year-old student is fitting in just fine, reading the same books and taking the same tests as her 10- and 11-year-old classmates.

Galeana has been attending class with her fourth-grade son since January as part of a pilot program aimed at helping newly arrived immigrants learn English and adjust to American schools and culture.

"A lot of people are probably afraid to go to school so late in their life," Galeana said. "But I want to learn. I want to learn so I can get a job. I want to learn so I can help my son. I want to learn so I can become a citizen."

Across the country, there has been a boom in the number of school programs aimed at helping parents and children overcome language barriers.

"I think what you're seeing is a need on two levels: Children who are already citizens but whose parents don't speak English, and a huge immigrant population where nobody speaks English," said Charles Amorosino Jr., executive director of the nonprofit Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages Inc.

"What you're mostly seeing is supportive efforts, efforts to help parents help their children."

In Texas, state law requires schools to provide bilingual education to parents. Similar programs are offered in Florida, New Mexico, Washington, New York and other states.

But in California, voters did away with bilingual education three years ago. As a result, children have been placed in English immersion programs to learn subjects like history and science.

The California Department of Education estimates about 1.5 million children in kindergarten through 12th grade are learning English. About 200,000 of them have been in the country for less than three years, according to department statistics.

A number of school districts in the state offer some sort of family literacy program that includes parents in the education process. Some require parents to attend after-school programs with their children. Others provide separate classes for parents.

The Anaheim program, dubbed "The English Academy" and started in January, goes one step further by encouraging parents to attend class with their children. School officials hope the program will become a model for campuses across the state.

"It gives children an opportunity to feel comfortable in school, and it gives parents an opportunity to see what school is all about," said Connie Scheid, the school district's director of special programs.

With parent participation in the classroom, school officials hope to improve children's learning at home. The idea was the brainchild of school administrators who were looking for a way to help students who speak little or no English.

"These were the students who were quiet in the classroom, the ones who were really struggling," said vice principal Norma Martinez.

The program is funded with state money given to districts to create language programs for children and parents.

Parents attend the academy as their work schedule allows. As many as seven have been in the classroom on any given day, along with 20 children, mostly fourth- and fifth-graders.

"The kids of parents who attend make the fastest progress," said teacher Rhonda Oglevie, who has been teaching in the academy since it began.

Children typically selected for Oglevie's class have been in the country for a year or less. The goal is to teach them enough English to place them in regular classrooms within 18 months.

School officials believe getting parents involved in the classroom will help their children improve homework and performance on special projects.

"I would like to be able to help my daughters," Concepcion Arcos, 30, said in Spanish through a translator.

Sitting at a small desk, Arcos balanced her 7-month-old daughter on her knee as she worked on a word search puzzle — a treat for doing well during a reading assignment.

First she circled the word April then pronounced and spelled it out loud. Finally, she wrote it in a notebook.

Her older daughter worked on the same puzzle next to her.

Galeana never finished school in her native Mexico. She quit to help raise her brothers and sisters and later to care for her own family.

She wants her son Mario to learn, too.

"I want him to learn so he can have a better life than me," she said.