Forums seek to involve parents in education Monthly events to offer advice on furthering skills EAST COLUMBIA

February 16, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

A student's education shouldn't stop when the afternoon school bell rings, says Dorothy T. Hersi, Dasher Green Elementary School Parent-Teacher Association president, who has organized a forum to involve parents in their children's academic development.

Dr. Hersi, an assistant professor at Howard University, and the PTA's executive board have arranged a monthly "Academic Excellence Forum" to advise parents on helping their children improve basic skills such as math and reading, and assessing deficiencies.

"I have a strong conviction that parents have to be very involved in a child's education," says Dr. Hersi, who has a doctorate in organizational communication and three education-related master's degrees from Howard University. "They have to help teachers in the educational process, and it can't be lip service. It can't be anything other than actual, practical application."

Dasher Green Elementary Principal John K. Vermette agrees with Dr. Hersi's philosophy.

"A parent has to be a child's first and foremost influential teacher," he says. "I believe when parents get involved in teaching a child and participating in the PTA and conferences, it establishes a set of expectations of academic excellence, and that child is going to do better."

The guest speakers for the next three forums are professors and administrators who Dr. Hersi has known through Howard University.

The forums, which are free and open to the public, will take place the last Monday of each month through April from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Dasher Green Elementary (see box). The first forum in January, attended by about 40 parents, focused on nurturing gifted children.

"The people we're bringing in are consultants in their own right," says Dr. Hersi. "They can charge $100 an hour, but they're giving their time and energy for free. These are not little cupcake forums. These are people who have written books and articles."

Dr. Hersi, 39, works with college students on basic skills as chairman of the verbal, reading and study skills department in the Center of Academic Reinforcement at Howard University. She has master's degrees in reading, guidance and counseling and student development.

"My concern is that I see so many who enter college who aren't quite prepared," she says, adding that students who have hidden deficiencies can suffer from low self-esteem and confidence levels.

She says reading is an "overlooked skill" and that assumptions are too often made about reading comprehension levels.

PTA Vice President Janet Ayres said the forums aim to stimulate ideas on how to make normally unproductive time, such as grocery shopping and car trips, an educational experience by stressing basic principles. Such suggestions are important to parents who are pressed for time, she says.

"It's difficult for parents without much time to investigate what to do with children," she says.

The forums are intended "not only to stimulate, but to give ideas of things that are readily available and can be put into practice with little or no overhead."

To encourage greater attendance, Ms. Ayres has arranged a baby-sitting service staffed by student peer counselors from Owen Brown Middle School for the nights of the forums. Parents can make a voluntary $2 contribution.

Assistant Principal Pamela Butler says she believes the program can promote "parents helping parents with parenting skills." The forums also could help parents who had unpleasant experiences in school feel more comfortable in a school setting, she says.

"A program such as this can erase misconceptions," she says. "We can become a resource and a support group."

Mrs. Hersi said PTA support exists for continuing the program in subsequent years. Mr. Vermette says expansion of the program would be a way to "send a message to parents that your child will benefit by your involvement."

Academic Excellence Forums Schedule

(Forums are held from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Dasher Green Elementary, 6700 Cradlerock Way, Columbia)

Feb. 22

Subjects: mathematical concepts and applications for parents; enhancing study skills for elementary school students.

Speakers: Dr. Gerunda Hughes, mathematics instructor with 18 years experience in developmental education, Howard University.

Dr. Joan Bartlett, psychologist and study skills instructor, Sidwell Friends School of Washington and formerly of Howard University.

March 29

Subject: enhancing writing and verbal skills for elementary school students.

Speakers: Dr. Eugene Williams Sr., director of test improvement program, office of the superintendent, District of Columbia Public Schools; former coordinator of secondary education, School of Education, Howard University.

April 26

Subject: improving reading and comprehension skills for elementary school students.

Speaker: Dr. Dolores P. Dickerson, director of secondary education, School of Education, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and former assistant dean of the School of Education, Howard University.

For more information, call Dorothy Hersi at 301-596-2779

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