Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Program empowers parents to get more involved with children's lives

While Lacoochee Elementary School principal Karen Marler looks on, parents Lucia Miramon, left, and Francisca Moreno, pair up in an active reading exercise that is designed to help them learn to work with their children on reading comprehension.

KAINAZ AMARIA | Times

While Lacoochee Elementary School principal Karen Marler looks on, parents Lucia Miramon, left, and Francisca Moreno, pair up in an active reading exercise that is designed to help them learn to work with their children on reading comprehension.

LACOOCHEE — Teodora Romero wanted to help her children succeed in school, but she didn't know how.

A Mexican immigrant who speaks almost exclusively Spanish, Romero felt overwhelmed by the assignments her third-grade son Luis and kindergarten daughter Berniece brought home from Lacoochee Elementary School.

Worse, she lacked the comfort level with English to approach their teachers or others who work at the school.

"I was intimidated," Romero said quietly, with the help of a bilingual friend.

She wasn't alone.

Principal Karen Marler, who grew up in the poor, rural community and still lives nearby, knew of dozens of parents in the same situation. She could see it just in the school's lack of parental participation.

And she didn't like it.

So Marler recruited educators from her staff and from the district administration to create a "parent university."

"We wanted them to feel empowered when they left, to be able to do better things for their children," Marler said. "A child's first teachers are their parents."

For months, the teachers drafted a course outline geared toward skills that parents said they needed.

They included things such as understanding the technology the children use at school, knowing how to better communicate with the teachers and finding better ways to help their kids read.

"We're basing the program on their needs, rather than saying, 'This is what we think you need,' " said Noreen Kraebel, a district Title I parent involvement educator.

The courses began in January with eight moms. The group has grown to two dozen, and already they've seen positive results.

"It has helped me," said Romero, who also is taking English classes through Catholic Charities. "I learn how can I participate in school. This year I am a volunteer. … I am more involved with my kids. When my kids tell me, 'Mommy, can you help me read that book,' I am more confident. I have many (new) friends, too."

Rose Hernandez, whose son Nathaniel is in kindergarten, liked that the program is interactive.

"They not only give you materials. They give you the tools to work with your children," said Hernandez, who moved here from New York and is bilingual. "It has motivated me."

On a recent Thursday evening, Hernandez and Romero paired up to practice the lessons that reading coach Bev Moses had just provided.

They sat together with the book, El Oso Curioso (The Curious Bear), Romero playing the part of mom and Hernandez acting as the child.

Romero began with the book's cover, making sure to ask questions about the title and author, inquiring about whether Hernandez understood the word curioso and then encouraging her to read the story.

She highlighted the importance of the pictures, in understanding the story, as Moses recommended, and she made an effort to tie the tale to Hernandez's own experiences.

Afterward, Romero said having such information made her feel less afraid of working with the materials her children bring home.

It helps, Hernandez said, that the school's leaders have gone to such great lengths to make the mostly Spanish-speaking parents feel at ease. One key was the participation of Clara Barlow, a paraprofessional who used to teach at a university in Colombia, as the group's translator.

Throughout Thursday's session, Barlow would take the information presented by Marler, Moses and Kraebel and explain it to the women whose English was minimal. Her presence made the group feel more welcome at the school, Hernandez said.

Barlow, who volunteers for the parent university, explained she's just wanting to make the parents' lives easier.

She recalled that when she moved to the United States seven years ago, she didn't speak English and it wasn't always easy to communicate.

"We have to help each other," Barlow said.

Knowing that language is a stumbling block, Marler said the district has purchased some mini computers and software for the families to take home to help them learn English. The initiative includes a tutor who is available by phone for a year.

"This stemmed from the (parent) university and their desire to be better informed and better able to communicate," Marler said.

So far, it seems to be working, Kraebel said.

"It's a sense of accomplishment (for them)," she said. "I knew we were successful when one of the boys in the care program said to me, 'Well, what did my mom learn tonight?' "

The participants' enthusiasm has Lacoochee educators talking about expanding the effort for next year. They're looking into field trips, additional lessons — all sorts of ideas to get more parents into the school and involved.

"The more we meet, the more we realize the impact it can have on our school," Marler said. "The opportunity for positive collaboration between parents is few and far between in this community. … The key is to get them here and get them talking."

When the parents finish the program in May, the school is preparing a banquet and award ceremony, to be followed by a graduation, complete with cap and gown. It's to give the moms a sense of accomplishment for achieving an academic goal, one that many have not experienced in the past.

Hernandez said she would recommend that others take advantage of the program, not just for their own sense of self, but also for their children.

"I feel like this should actually be a requirement," she said. The children "see us motivated, and it motivates them, too."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Program empowers parents to get more involved with children's lives 04/04/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 4, 2009 4:32am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Will new laws protect condo owners from apartment conversions and rogue associations?

    Real Estate

    Danny Di Nicolantonio has lived in St. Petersburg's Calais Village Condominums for 33 years. Annoyed at times by the actions, or inaction, of the condo board and property managers, he has complained to the state agency that is supposed to investigate.

    That has left him even more annoyed.

    A bill passed by the Florida Legislature would affect places like The Slade in Tampa's Channelside district, where cCondominium owners have battled a plan to convert homes into apartments.
[Times file photo]
  2. Walmart opens first Pinellas County in-house training academy

    Retail

    Seminole — It had all the hallmarks of a typical graduation: robe-clad graduates marching in to Pomp and Circumstance, friends and family packed together under a sweltering tent and a lineup of speakers encouraging the graduates to take charge of their future.

    New Walmart Academy graduates are congratulated Thursday morning by associates during a graduation ceremony at the Walmart store, 10237 Bay Pines Boulevard, St. Petersburg. The Walmart location is one of the company's training academies where managers complete a one week retail course. David Shultz and Richard Sheehan, both from St. Petersburg, get high fives from the crowd.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  3. Four questions with Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith before he helps lead the St. Pete Pride parade

    Human Interest

    A decade ago, Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith was afraid to tell his friends and family he was gay.

    Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith will serve as a grand marshal at the St. Pete Pride parade on Saturday. [City of Largo]
  4. Lawsuit: Florida contractor fakes death to dodge angry homeowners

    Human Interest

    SEMINOLE — For weeks, Glenn Holland, 67, crawled out of bed before the sun rose to look for a dead man.

    Last year Glenn and Judith Holland said they paid a contractor thousands of dollars to renovate their future retirement home in Seminole. But when they tried to move in on Dec. 14, they said the home was in shambles and uninhabitable. They sent a text message to contractor Marc Anthony Perez at 12:36 p.m. looking for answers. Fourteen minutes later, they got back this text: "This is Marc's daughter, dad passed away on the 7th of December in a car accident. Sorry." Turns out Perez was still alive. Now the Hollands are suing him in Pinellas-Pasco circuit court. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  5. What you need to know for Friday, June 23

    News

    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    Graffiti butts are everywhere in downtown St. Pete. What's going on? [CHRISTOPHER SPATA | Times]