Parents reading with children fashion many happy endings

September 08, 1994|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Suzanne Loudermilk contributed to this article.

Linda Kleiner had read to her daughter when Emily was a child. But now Emily was 13, and Mrs. Kleiner was nervous as she agreed to participate in a program called "Pairing Up for Reading" at Rising Sun Middle School in Cecil County.

But with the help of one of Emily's teachers, Mrs. Kleiner found the perfect solution. "We dug out my old Nancy Drews and made reading them a family activity," she said. "She related to Nancy Drew, just as I had when I was her age. It couldn't have worked better. The teachers knew all along, of course, that kids that age would read with their parents. It was the parents who didn't know it."

Mrs. Kleiner, a mother of four who lives near Calvert in northern Cecil, already has heard the message delivered yesterday by Richard W. Riley, U.S. secretary of education, who called for a national commitment to school-family partnerships. She is a member of the Cecil County Home and School Committee, which for five years has been encouraging cooperation in learning among parents, students and schools.

With small financial help from Cecil County schools, businesses and PTAs, the committee has organized such activities as all-night "pajama parties," at which parents, teachers -- and even an occasional county commissioner -- send out for pizza, read to each other and finish the night in a sleeping bag. Other activities are aimed at helping parents help their children with homework.

Baltimore City doesn't throw pajama parties, but the city's Fund for Educational Excellence, in cooperation with Johns Hopkins University, has been promoting school-family partnerships for almost seven years. A pilot program at eight schools has expanded to 45, including all 22 elementary and middle schools in the southern area.

In a city in which many schools have no parent-teacher organizations because parents are said to be reluctant to go out at night, the "Baltimore Family and School Connection" has sponsored "family nights" so popular that some parents had to be turned away, said Lucretia Coates, program development director of the Fund for Educational Excellence.

The Cecil and Baltimore City partnerships have a common root in Hopkins' Center on Schools, Families, Communities and Children's Learning, which has made a science of family involvement in schools.

The center, headed by Joyce Epstein, has identified six major types of involvement -- ranging from sending home better information to assigning homework that requires parent participation.

Secretary Riley yesterday spoke of schools' "reconnecting" with families. He announced the formation of a partnership led by the National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education and including such organizations as the National PTA, the National Alliance of Business, the U.S. Catholic Conference and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

"We are letting our children grow up, at times, almost alone -- and disconnected," he said. "The education of American children -- their moral development, their sense of citizenship and academic growth -- is done by fits and starts. This is not how families want to raise their children."

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