Evergreen Elementary School welcomed families with a new outreach program, Parents Assisting Kids, last fall. Megan White, site coordinator for Communities In Schools of Peninsula, and Susan Brummitt, Evergreen’s learning assistance program teacher, worked with the Parent Teacher Association to offer monthly Parents And Kids (PAK) meetings to address concerns that the parents prioritized.
“We are having fun welcoming families back into the building,” said Evergreen Principal Hugh Maxwell. “Students did fall behind, and it’s hard to know how to help your child. This was the perfect time to reach out.”
“Hugh was behind this from the beginning,” White said. “He was there for each evening, which made them even more powerful. He has been so instrumental in the culture of the school, the positivity and support and care of students.”
Evergreen welcomed returning students in the 2021-22 school year, but could not open to parents or volunteers.
“As a school we really place a priority on reaching out to parents,” White said. “Whenever you get parents involved it is only good for kids. It shows kids school is important (and) models caring about education and that kids are important.”
At each PAK night, families eat pizza together before the kids go to the gym for supervised play, while adults gather in the school’s new community room.
When they first met in September, the adults broke into small groups to brainstorm what they most wanted and needed to support their children. “We wanted to be responsive to their needs,” Maxwell said.
The parents and other caregivers said they wanted some tools they could use at a small scale to assist their children with reading and math as well as help dealing with the emotional issues of adjusting to being back in a classroom. They were also interested in more information about dyslexia and how the school communicates with parents about their students.
At follow-up meetings, the Evergreen reading specialist presented easy to implement strategies to help struggling readers, and the school counselor talked about the importance of self-care.
“As we move forward, our hope is to inform parents regarding the topics discussed as well as have an activity they can practice with, then take home and use with their student,” Brummitt said.
In response to the request for help with the social emotional needs of students, Myka Cranford, volunteer and communications director for CISP, presented an introduction to a parenting class. Parents were enthusiastic for more, and Cranford now teaches a five-session parenting class that started in January. As with the PAK program, dinner and free childcare are provided.
Cranford, who has two children in their twenties, has always had a passion for parenting. “Even one good tool that works can make you feel successful,” she said. She is certified to teach through Positive Discipline, a program that focuses on positive behaviors rather than negative punitive consequences.
“Positive Discipline is designed to teach young people to become responsible, respectful and resourceful members of their communities and teaches important social and life skills in a manner that is deeply respectful and encouraging for both children and adults,” Cranford said. “It works for all ages.”
The class is interactive and encourages parent engagement. Parents work to find solutions that work for their own families, to anticipate problems, and have family meetings where the children can help come up with solutions that will work for them. For example, Cranford said, kids can plan ahead and design a time-out place that is positive for them, where they will want to be if they need to calm down.
The classes last for an hour and a half, with parents taking new tools home and reporting on how they worked the following week. A class will also be offered at Minter Creek Elementary.
In addition to PAK nights, White has coordinated other efforts to support Evergreen students and their families.
Little Eagles is a reading mentor program with 12 volunteer mentors who work along with teachers each week, supporting more than two dozen students after school on Tuesdays. “Sometimes mentors are afraid they don’t know enough about reading strategies,” White said, “but they don’t need to worry. They instill a sense of joy in reading and are a consistent adult presence.” Once a week there is a Tutors with Tails program that pairs students with trained canines that help kids relax while reading aloud.
Over the holiday season the holiday helper program worked to provide gifts for families. The families, identified by staff, gave guidance about exactly what the students wanted and needed. “It gave me goosebumps to see their faces when they came to pick up the presents.” White said.
“What CIS is about, is assisting families and kids with what they need to succeed in school and in life, helping with whatever barriers there might be, including food, clothes and mentors,” she said.
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