By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Volunteer teacher Kelly Iwamoto
School can be a “scary” place for parents, says Terri Jernigan. Sometimes they feel intimidated or unwelcome, or think they aren’t being listened to by teachers and administrators.
But school is no longer scary for Jernigan and others with children at Bennett-Kew Elementary School in Inglewood. Many parents feel empowered because they become partners with school staff, working together to help students achieve academic and personal success.
What makes parents feel welcome and valued at Bennett-Kew, a campus where nearly all of the students are minority and low-income? Parent University, a program started last year by members of the Inglewood Teachers Association (ITA).
Funded by a $20,000 grant from CTA’s Institute for Teaching (IFT), Parent University offers after-school workshops plus field trips for parents to the California Science Center, the Getty Museum, UCLA, and other places to explore with their children for educational opportunities. A graduation ceremony was held in June.
Before the program launched, teachers reached out to parents, asking: “What would you like to learn more about so that you can help your child succeed in school?” ITA members and parents worked together to develop curriculum and bring one workshop per month to the school, covering such topics as parent-teacher communication, child development, homework, Common Core State Standards and enrichment activities that stimulate learning. They meet a week after workshops to “debrief” about lessons learned.
“Parents learn how to deal with their children’s emotions,” says Jernigan, who is raising her sixth-grade granddaughter. “It taught me math skills and English skills to help my child succeed. I work the graveyard shift, but it’s worth losing a little sleep for me to attend classes.”
Parents like Magdalena Araiza appreciate having a Spanish-speaking translator convey information that is provided.
“Students are learning English in school, so it’s hard for them to explain things to us like homework,” she says. “Parent University gives us tips on helping with homework and how to work together. I learned to stay calm when my child is excited. Sometimes when there is fighting, we did not know how to react. The last class explained how the brain works and how children think.”
Willy Santos, father of three Bennett-Kew students, has become better at communicating.
“Before, I would ask, ‘How was school? Do you have homework?’ I thought I was communicating, but I wasn’t.”
Now Santos asks open-ended questions and looks for behavior and facial cues to see how his children’s day really went at school. Hearing a psychologist speak on child development helped him to understand what his children may be going through developmentally and emotionally.
“Parent University taught me how to talk to my children, and how to encourage them to do better. Instead of just asking them if they have homework, we sit at the table and do homework. We read together almost every night. My schedule is kind of tight, but I make time.”
While it’s too soon to tell whether API scores are improving, teachers say they are seeing success. “I’ve seen results in my students whose parents came to the workshops,” says Adriana Perez, a kindergarten teacher. “You see progress in those students when parents practice things with them at home that are learned here. All parents want to help their children succeed; they just need information on how to make it happen.”
Parent University’s instructors are ITA members who volunteer their time; some do not even teach at Bennett-Kew.
Unfortunately, Inglewood Unified School District is the lowest-paying district in Los Angeles County and was taken over by the state for mismanagement.
“Under dismal conditions, we’re doing a positive thing,” says Kelly Iwamoto, who volunteers at Parent University. “Despite negative things happening to us, we know we’re making a difference.”
ITA members reapplied for the IFT grant and plan to extend the pilot program to other district school sites in the future.
“It’s clear we are building a true, collaborative partnership with parents, founded on trust and honesty,” says Iwamoto. “There is definitely more work to be done, more relationships to build and more walls to break down. But in Inglewood, we’re doing it one step at a time. Our journey is just beginning.”
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