Friday, February 14th, 2014...4:01 pm

Goal of PTA program is to make schools less intimidating

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I dreaded parent-teacher conferences, especially when they involved my boys.
Sometimes it seemed the teacher and I weren’t talking about the same child. Behavior allowed in the teacher’s classroom was not behavior accepted at home.
And when the meetings started to involve a team of teachers seemingly versus just me, all I wanted was out of there.ufen_228x228
“We are trying to reach parents like you,” said Jessica Berry, family and community liaison for Fayette County Public Schools. Berry is a part of the public schools’ partnership with the 16th District PTA to make our schools less intimidating to parents and other community members.
The National PTA created a program to facilitate that process called Urban Family Engagement Network, and the local district was awarded a $20,000 grant to implement it over a two-year period.
“It is to be used to educate the parents and to get them more engaged in their students’ education,” said James Brown, chairman of the network.
Through a series of nine weekly sessions, parents, guardians and interested community members will meet to learn what makes public schools tick. The hope is that when parents become familiar with how the system works, intimidation will be lessened if not eliminated. They then will become more involved in their children’s schools and with their children’s education.
Organizers hope to add a Spanish component next year.
The next session, which runs Feb. 19 through April 23, will be the second conducted in Fayette County. The first one was in the fall and from that session, one person has decided to run for a seat on the site-based council and another is planning to try for an executive position with the PTA at her child’s school.
The session topics were selected to give parents and guardians a clearer picture of what is going on, Brown said, adding, “It provides an opportunity for them to be introduced to key players.”
For example, he said, Melanie Trowel, who teaches at the Carter G. Woodson Academy and who was selected 2014 Middle School Teacher of the Year, talked about the parent-teacher conferences and acronyms that teachers use.
“Some parents don’t know what questions to ask,” Brown said. “They don’t want to look stupid. She gave them the kind of information they would need and questions to ask.”
Fayette County School Board chairman John Price and board member Doug Barnett explained the schools’ budget in another session, and Superintendent Tom Shelton discussed the various levels of advocacy and the hierarchy of positions in the system.
The network is project-based, meaning each group must think about the issues it has encountered at its school or in the district and devise an action plan that would help alleviate the problem, Brown explained. During the fall session, the projects targeted family engagement, hiring practices and ways to increase faculty diversity, he said.
As incentives, the network can provide transportation vouchers to the sessions and gift cards and gas cards will be given out, and a special prize will be awarded for attendance at the end of the nine sessions, Brown explained.
The network also serves dinner, and the Police Athletic League will provide tutoring and help with homework for children who come with their parents or guardians.
The fall program started with 25 participants and ended with 15. Life sometimes gets in the way. Organizers would like to have at least 30 participants this time around, but they are willing to accommodate more.
Dinner starts at 5:30 p.m. and the session runs from 6 to 8 p.m. Call (859) 381-4176 to register, which is required.
“We have been fine-tuning this curriculum,” Berry said. “We’ve worked hard to really get this down to the nitty-gritty.”
There will even be mock parent-teacher conferences so, with more practice, people like me will have less anxiety. Where was this program when I needed it?

IF YOU GO
What: 16th District PTA’s Urban Family Engagement Network, featuring nine learning sessions to empower parents and guardians and encourage advocacy for children in school.
When: 5:30-8 p.m. Feb. 19-April 23, including dinner and child care. Registration required.
Where: Bluegrass Community and Technical College, 500 Newtown Pike.
For information and registration: Call (859) 381-4176.



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