Parents tested at school

Pressure: Mothers and fathers of Ellicott Mills pupils come to class for a day and experience firsthand the demands of middle school.

November 18, 2001|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Michelle Grap, a seventh-grader at Ellicott Mills Middle School, gets frustrated when her parents try to help with homework.

"My parents will try to explain something to me and I'll be like, `OK, I already know that,'" she said. They just don't realize how hard her schoolwork is, she said.

But on Friday, Michelle had a chance to show her father firsthand just how tough her classes can be.

David Grap was one of about 120 parents attending a "bring your parent to school" event organized by the school's PTA. He sat in on Michelle's math class, where pupils were learning about slope intercepts. According to his daughter, it was all over his head.

Emily Zorn said her mother, Kim, attended an English class and "didn't understand it."

In addition to tagging along with their kids, parents attended a program on communicating with adolescents and listened to a presentation by Principal Mike Goins.

But the highlight of the event, at least for the pupils, was the homework assignment given to the parents. The parents worked on the assignments in the school cafeteria, then gave them to their children to grade over the weekend for extra credit.

Parents received one of three randomly distributed assignments. The math assignment had 13 questions, and test-takers were told to "show all work." Sample question: Calculate 7 times (1+8) divided by 9.

The social studies test called for identifying all 50 states on a map of America and naming the capitals. For the English assignment, test-takers were asked to replace "tired words" and correct spelling errors.

Two mothers were spotted quickly swapping tests after receiving them.

The idea of parent day originated with PTA member Donna Monger, who wanted to find a way to get parents involved in American Education Week.

In past years, very few parents had accepted the school's invitation to tag along with their children during that week, she said.

When kids enter middle school, parents tend to be less involved in their school activities, said Goins. "We lament the smaller turnout in middle school versus elementary school," he said.

Middle school angst

Part of the reason for the smaller turnout is that kids say they don't want their parents around as much anymore.

"They say they don't want you, but they really do," asserts Michele Beaulieu, a mother and PTA member.

She appears to have been right. Friday's event seemed to be just the ticket to push past adolescent reservations.

The organization might have helped. The classes were shorter than the usual 90 minutes, and parents were given other activities to do during parts of the morning. The event lasted from 8 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.

`Amazing' turnout

PTA members who had been hoping for 30 or 40 parents were thrilled with the enthusiastic response.

"It's amazing," said PTA President Joan Alagna. "Last year, we couldn't get parents to come in no matter what we did."

Alagna's daughter Kelly is used to seeing her mother in school, especially since Joan Alagna works in the office part time.

But, said Kelly, having her mother sit in on classes was great.

"I'm kind of glad she's coming in to see my classes because they're much harder than parents think they are," said the seventh-grader.

More mothers than fathers attended, and more parents of sixth-graders than parents of seventh- and eighth-graders.

About 30 parents who hadn't registered in advance attended anyway.

`This is a hit'

"It's all about fitting in, so if a lot of parents are here, the ones that aren't will have kids saying, `Why weren't you there?'" Goins said. "This is a hit," he added.

Keith Binder said his two children, sixth-grader Tory and eighth-grader Chelsea, couldn't wait for him to visit their school.

"The kids want to bring you in," he said. "They think you've forgotten what it's like to be in school."

Really, he said, "They couldn't wait for us to take the test."

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