Seven months ago, the Parent Academy Center in Spring Hill was only an idea. Now the center is a real place on the Fox Chapel Middle School campus, and there's more to come.
"This is the start of building blocks for more support," said parent Alicia Drago, who was at the center recently to hear Tina Cordova, program director of Ability Tree of Florida, talk about how to maneuver through a child's Individual Education Plan. The plans are required for each special education student.
"Be involved in your child's education as much as possible," Cordova urged, as she offered ideas for parents and those acting as parents, like Judith Reynolds, another meeting attendee.
"Getting this help takes the load off. You don't feel like you are the only one in the boat and nobody's helping your row," Reynolds said.
The Hernando County School District website says the Parent Academy, which is free for parents, promotes collaboration between families, schools and the community.
"This centralizes community services for the west side of Hernando County," said Ivette Mendoza, coordinator of family engagement. Several agencies use the center, she said, making it easy for parents to know there's one place to go.
The idea for a center came from the district's Parental Engagement Advisory Committee, but they had no meeting place. Ray Pinder, the Fox Chapel principal, offered his school's four vacant portable classrooms, but they required a makeover.
Staff members, Mendoza, Rachelle Pinder, a teacher on assignment, and Parent Academy liaisons Kelly Gormley, Shelby Santos and Beth Zacharias stepped in with cleaning supplies and paint brushes. Donations poured in from the community and staff. Pinder's decorating flair transformed the box-like rooms into warm meeting places.
One portable, named "The Gathering Room," has a donated sofa and love seat, end tables and a conference table. Plants, flowers and artwork provide a place where parents can have private discussions with agency representatives.
Outside is a Little Library, a tiny cabinet filled with free books, all donated by United Way.
"Community donations set up this facility, and no funds from district schools were used," Santos said.
Many events and meetings are planned for the center, including a Kinship Program to help grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.
"This is all good for parents' emotional health," Drago said. "It good to know there's help, and you are not alone."
For information, including a meeting schedule and contact numbers, go to: hernandoschools.org, and click on "Student and Families" and then on "Parent Academy."