Every other Tuesday, Beth Zacharias welcomes parents and children into the Eastside Elementary School Title I Family Center to play.
She hosts one class at a time, which teachers reserve. The most recent one was with second-grade teacher Larke Ready's students and their parents.
"My whole job is to build capacity for parent involvement," parent facilitator Zacharias said.
One of the parent center's walls is lined with shelves containing educational games that parents can check out. The center also provides learning and community service resources.
When families come in for a "fun night," they gather around a long table set up with games. They are free to wander in any time between 5 and 7 p.m. They can stay for a quick game or two or stay the entire time. Refreshments are provided.
"The most important form of parent involvement takes place in the home," Zacharias said, "so when parents come in and check out games and play them at home, we see test scores go up." Thirty years of research has proven that, she added.
The fun nights give parents a chance to be good examples. "We offer them the opportunity to come play with materials, and it's a bonding opportunity, too," said Eastside's Title I lead teacher, Margie Ellis. "Modeling is the key. You have to model what you want your kids to know."
Beth Meisberger is an Eastside kindergarten teacher and has twins in second grade. One is in Ready's class. She brought the boys because this kind of thing "reinforces skills we're learning in school," she said. She appreciated the chance to see what the family center has to offer. "I don't get over here often."
Alex didn't seem to be thinking about how the activity could boost his education. He said he came "to have fun." The 7-year-old chose Cool Cash Bingo to play with his mother and brother because "it has money."
Pao Moua was one of the first on the scene with his two sons, Derick and Kaden. Derick, 8, a second-grader, came "to have fun."
His father said he came "to let my kids know I'm interested in being involved with them."
While federal Title I money supports the programs Zacharias offers, she is grateful to the Ridge Manor Winn-Dixie for supplying refreshments. "Winn-Dixie has sponsored every one of these," she said. "That is community support."
Ready, the teacher, showed up to interact with the children and their parents. Teachers sign up for a particular fun night and are free to attend or not.
Ready explained why she signed up. "I thought some of the parents could see some of the skills the children need to work on at home. It's to let them see what's in the family center and also to let them see how much fun it is to play together."