Parent Academy taps moms, dads for 'schoolwork' assignments

June 14, 1993|By Patrick A. McGuire | Patrick A. McGuire,Staff Writer

Even though math was never his specialty, the best ideas Joe Jones had during his 27 years with the Baltimore public schools always seemed to have a lot to do with people and numbers.

Take the math program he once devised so teachers could compute the realistic problem-solving skill level of students within minutes of their entering a classroom. Or the year and a half at Furman L. Templeton Elementary School, where he was an assistant principal, when he had students collect a million bottle caps just to get an appreciation for what a million of anything looked like.

Not surprising then, that his latest idea -- and perhaps the simplest of them all -- has everything to do with numbers of people. For as Mr. Jones found out during his tenure as teacher and administrator, numbers -- especially when it comes to parents lending a hand at their local school -- are everything.

"There is no way schools can exist without parents," says Mr. Jones, the 57-year-old director of Academy Concepts Inc., a company he formed when he retired four years ago to sell schools on his Parent Academy program. For a fee ranging from $295 to $3,000, his specialists contract with elementary or middle schools to recruit, organize, help train and supervise an army of parent volunteers to take over dozens of non-teaching tasks.

"When you have 500 kids in a building and the instructional staff is held accountable for imparting education through the day," says Mr. Jones, "there must be some thought applied to their movement, the logistics, things like that. If educators have to do it fully, then that's minimalizing their instructional hours. If you can get a group of well-trained folk to assist, then you're simply giving teachers an opportunity to spend more time at the library getting the films they need, or the time to make sure the subject matter for their class is to the nth degree."

Now flourishing in 25 Baltimore city schools, Parent Academy is an apparent hit with administrators.

"It was like pulling teeth to get parents to volunteer before we had the Parent Academy," says Geneva Turner, the parent liaison specialist at Baybrook Elementary School which signed up for the program two months ago. "I used to get frustrated. I would send out a list of school activities we needed help with, and say we were having a drawing and the first five who came would get a prize. And five would show up. Now I have parents begging to join up. This is the best program I have seen since I've been a parent liaison."

Jacquelyn Hardy, a special assistant to the Baltimore superintendent of schools, Walter G. Amprey, agrees. "We're very enthusiastic about Parent Academy," she says. "They have a nice little formula for making parent involvement a very exciting opportunity, where in the past it might have been seen as more mundane. We encourage each school to look at the Parent Academy as an option."

One that has done so from the very start four years ago is Gwynns Falls Elementary School. Principal Ernestine Dunston recently held a Parent Academy graduation ceremony for 14 parents who had completed the program and says they were so enthused they wanted to throw their caps in the air after receiving their certificate.

"Parent Academy has assisted us in improving parental involvement because it provides a vehicle in which organization is there," she says. "Instead of doing a lot of things intuitively and second guessing how effective each will be, Parent Academy spells out exactly what is expected of parents. And it relieves me of having to have hands-on the way I've had to do in the past."

Under the Parent Academy program, children in a target school are "deputized" and sent home to bring their parents back for an informational meeting. Those sessions often take on the charged, emotional atmosphere of a revival meeting.

"Its time we woke up, because, folks, we're in some hard times and we don't seem to realize it," Ricky Davis, a Parent Academy speaker, told a group of would-be volunteers at Harlem Park Elementary School recently. "Committed people are what we are lacking. . . . If you feel a part of this school then you're gonna do your part. That's what this is really all about -- finding a way to make the schools more responsible to us."

After being primed, parents are shown a list of 17 common tasks they can sign up for, donating as much time a day or week as they can spare. The tasks range from hallway monitoring to helping children open milk containers in the cafeteria to helping students practice their reading. Parents are trained for their chosen tasks and when they have completed all 17 they are presented with a graduation certificate. Meanwhile, as they complete a certain task, a happy face sticker or gold star is placed next to their name on a huge wall chart in the school's front hall where children can see how their parents are doing.

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