Children help parents learn

Program: Carroll County's Families Learning Together encourages adult involvement in schools, and has led some to continue their education.

May 23, 1999|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

Watching her 4-year-old son Ajay paint, Mala Singh beamed with pride -- and sighed with relief.

Nearly two years ago, the immigrant from Trinidad was so unsure of herself that she rarely left her Westminster home. But with the help of a local literacy program, Singh has earned a General Educational Development diploma and plans to attend Carroll Community College in the fall to study accounting.

She couldn't have done it without her children.

The Singhs are participants in Families Learning Together, a small, much-heralded literacy program funded by the Carroll Board of Education. With parallel learning programs for children and their parents, families work together in a portable classroom at Robert Moton Elementary School in Westminster.

In the decade since the program began, it has worked with about 300 families like the Singhs -- with positive results.

"If it wasn't for them, I'd be working at McDonald's today," said Wonder Fields, who entered the program seven years ago at age 40, earned a GED and today works as a teaching aide at the center. "This has helped me in dealing with my kids and knowing what they are doing with their homework."

A center at Northwest Middle School in Taneytown is thriving, said Sue Lysy, the center's part-time director, who has been with Families Learning Together since its inception.

"All of our teachers are cross-trained in early-childhood, adult and parenting education," she said. "And our concept is, as you raise the parent's goals, you bring the children along with them."

The center was recognized as a model program by the Maryland State Board of Education in 1997 and this year received high marks from a state board committee that evaluated small literacy programs.

Lysy said the center receives family referrals from Head Start programs and the Carroll County Health Department. After that, teachers from the center visit homes and recruit families.

Services include reading and math lessons, computer lab, lectures on child rearing and household economics.

The program's ideal family is one with infants.

"We like to teach the parents that you start learning when children are young -- you surround them with language, books and music and begin to take them on trips and talk to them constantly," Lysy said. "The parent really is the first teacher."

No tracking system exists to monitor progress of the center's alumni because of a lack of funding, Lysy said. But each year, about 50 families take advantage of the programs -- and many parents go on to attend college courses.

For Singh, the center has helped coax her out of a painful shyness -- and to make needed friends in her adopted country.

"They are like family to me -- they are always here for us," she said of the four part-time teachers. "My self-esteem was really low. Now I'm a success."

A main focus at the center is helping link parents to their children's schools.

"A lot of parents care, but they just don't know how" to join in their children's education, said teacher Patsy Linville.

Adds Lysy: "Schools are where kids learn, but we all learn in the context of our family. And our approach here is that we are learning all the time and our values are being transmitted to the child. Our ultimate goal is the success of the child in school."

Pub Date: 5/23/99

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