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School wins award for family center

(ran NTP edition)

Two years ago, the folks at Lutz Elementary School had an idea for getting parents more involved in their childrens' education.

That idea got noticed Friday.

The school received the Florida PTA-Barnett Bank Family Involvement Award at a state PTA conference. State Education Commissioner Frank Brogan presented the award at a luncheon at the Innisbrook Resort near Tarpon Springs.

Given for the first time to 13 schools in the state, the award brings attention to schools that have found ways to better involve parents in their kids' education.

Lutz won after developing a Family Resource Center at the school, where parents can check out books, magazines, videos and games that teach them how to relate better to their children and their social and academic needs, said Mary Fernandez, assistant principal.

The center also holds parenting classes, art classes, a family reading night and an absentee call-back program, in which volunteers call the parents of absent children to make sure the children are safe.

Terry Cone, the president of the Lutz Elementary PTA, said school representatives were thrilled to win the award, but even were even happier that the center has been a success.

"It's been gratifying to see it (the center) catch on. There are more and more people attending each parenting group, and just being able to allow more access for parents to this information has been great," Cone said.

Lutz volunteers let parents know about offerings at the center through a newsletter called Backpack Express. The students take the newsletters home and return with their parents' requests for library materials. The students take home books and tapes, the most popular of which have dealt with themes such as peer pressure, responsibility and tolerance, Cone said.

The award was sponsored by Barnett Bank and co-sponsored by the Florida PTA and the state Department of Education.