Nada Wilmering's had a bad day.
"Nada's not feeling good about herself right now," says one of the women assembled around her. "Let's say good things about Nada."
Mrs. Wilmering cheers up as the others call out observations about her good points. She's enthusiastic, they say. She's always willing to help others.
This may seem like a scene from a support group, but it's part of a class on how to be a better parent, offered by Baltimore County schools. Now in its second year, the Parental Involvement program has attracted national recognition.
It is one of six programs across the country to win the National Education Association's annual A+ award, which recognizes efforts to improve teaching or learning. They were chosen from among 100 nominees and are featured in December's Ladies Home Journal.
Parental Involvement, created at the suggestion of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, is designed to improve students' self-esteem by giving parents alternative ways of communicating and disciplining children.
When parents make their children feel better about themselves, the youngsters do better in school, said Barbara Clark, who teaches the class Ms. Wilmering attended Wednesday night at Martin Boulevard Elementary School in Middle River.
The program began last year in two county schools, with the help of a $5,000 grant from the Noxell Corp., said Pat Henke, a teacher who serves as one of the program's two volunteer coordinators.
This year, the program received a $10,000 grant from Martin Marietta Corp. and has expanded to four more schools, Ms. Henke said. It features two-hour classes once a week for eight weeks, with follow-up workshops for interested parents.
The program, in its sixth week at Martin Boulevard, has helped Mrs. Wilmering "learn how to deal with my kids in a calm fashion."
Mrs. Wilmering said she also was better at teaching her children to accept responsibility for their actions. She said the little things she was learning had made a big difference in how she dealt with her children.
For instance, if one of her children has had a bad day, either with her or at school, she doesn't let them go to sleep feeling sad. She may, for instance, slip a little heart with the words "I want a hug" under their pillows.
"After a bad day, things get better," said Mrs. Wilmering, who has two children in Martin Boulevard Elementary.
She also realizes now that her son Derrick takes his cues from her attitude.
"I've learned that the angrier I get, the angrier he gets," she said. "When I calm down, he calms down."
Half of the class time is devoted to working on the parents' self-esteem, while the second half is dedicated to teaching parents how to raise their children's self-esteem. Parents learn through various writing exercises and discussion.
In one exercise, parents began by imagining being in a situation where their child constantly forgets his lunch money.
Next, the parents were told to write down what their typical reaction might be and the consequences that could follow. Then they discussed with one another and with the teacher a better way to handle these day-to-day situations.
Barbara Braun, who also has two children attending Martin Boulevard, has discovered that giving children choices works.
"I told them that you can clean your room on Monday or Friday but that if it was not cleaned by Friday on such-a-such time, I would throw all of their stuff away. It worked!" Mrs. Braun said.
Another parent, Marie Wockenfuss, works eight hours a day as an administrative assistant for the attorney general's office but finds the time to come to the weekly classes.
"I feel really good about this program," she said.
The course is offered at these schools: Chase Elementary, Essex Elementary, Hawthorne Elementary, Mars Estates Elementary, Martin Boulevard Elementary and Middlesex Elementary.
For further information, call the Teachers Association of Baltimore County at 828-6403.