Parent volunteers to visit homes of students who need help

February 09, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

When children need help, parents should get involved -- but not all parents know how to help or where to get help, school officials say.

A program beginning soon in Glen Burnie could help change that. Four elementary schools are about to begin a 16-week pilot effort aimed at matching parents with the resources they and their children need, inside and outside the school system.

Administrators at Richard Henry Lee, Freetown, Marley and Woodside elementary schools will identify children and their families and refer those who accept the offer to what are being called "home visitors," said Patricia Barton, the Oakwood Elementary School guidance counselor who runs the Anne Arundel County school system's Parent Involvement Center. The pilot program will be based at the center, housed at Oakwood Elementary, to take advantage of its videotapes, classes, lists of community programs and other resources for parents.

"With this program, we are having parents helping parents," Ms. Barton said. "We are acting in response to a request for help from [local school] administration."

Already, she said, principals beyond the four target elementary schools are coveting the program. They see it as a way to help families that either have complex problems beyond the traditional school purview or to extend more services to more children.

The program is being funded by a $10,000 United Way grant, which pays for five home visitors -- all parents from schools that feed into Glen Burnie High -- to work 10 hours a week. The visiting parents are trained through courses at the Parent Involvement Center and at the schools.

Each of the four schools will be served primarily by one home visitor, with the fifth floating among all four and focusing on families in which a child is enrolled in special education.

Principals say they often find that a child's problems in school -- academic, social, emotional, behavioral -- need to be addressed not only there, but at home. The behavior may reflect a situation at home -- stressed-out parents, family financial woes, adults who need to learn how to be better parents -- or it may be that a child needs more help and guidance in schoolwork.

The home visitors, so-called because they will be seeing families at home, will serve as the link between the family and the school, Parent Involvement Center and community.

"I am really excited about it. I can't wait to get started," said Rose Tasker, principal at Woodside Elementary.

The home visitor will mesh nicely with a tutoring program in the works, as well as with a plan to have teachers identify children who need counseling -- or even eyeglasses -- and get those needs taken care of, Mrs. Tasker said. "You know that our society is changing. Schools are beginning to reflect what is going on in society. Sometimes parents just need someone to share things with, someone to listen."

Ms. Barton said she and other administrators will hunt for more grant money if the pilot shows promise.

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