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Looking ahead: Tampa teacher plans fair to empower parents

By reaching out to struggling parents, teacher Kaneshia Williams says, the school can improve the home lives of its students and better their chances at success.

TAMPA – Plans are under way for something that could yield a multitude of  benefits for Sheehy Elementary School: An after-school festival where parents are the target audience.

Empowering Sheehy Parents Night, or ESPN, is the brainchild of Kaneshia Williams, a fifth grade teacher at the North Tampa school who organized a similar event last year.

Sheehy has a poverty rate of 98 percent. It also is one of three Hillsborough schools that, because of a series of low grades, was placed this year under supervision of Phalen Leadership Academies, an outside operator.

Williams believes much of the struggle stems from students' stressful home lives. That can change, she said, if parents who are struggling can get useful information about adult education, mental health counseling, financial literacy and other issues of concern.

Children are more likely to have hope if their parents have hope, she said. And when the school is that source of hope, parents become more supportive.

"This is a night of empowering parents," Williams told teachers who gathered last week to begin planning the Jan. 17 event. "Because when they're empowered, the children are going to be empowered. If they get out of the rut that they are in, then kids are going to want to come up."

The components for the 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. event are many.

Children will be fed dinner and there will be at least one bouncy house. Raffles will be held throughout the evening for gifts. Williams is inviting people from the public library, law enforcement and social service agencies. She's in communication with inspirational speakers. The courtyard will be decorated with banners and balloons.

At one table, she wants to take care of volunteer clearances. "We need parents to volunteer at the school," she said. "We need to see them. They need to be here."