Laura F. Lee had just put on her pajamas and settled on the couch to watch the Oscars when her phone rang.
A half-hour later, Lee was at Howard County General Hospital's intake desk, translating for a 15-year-old pregnant girl who could not speak English but whose cries of pain signaled in any language that her baby was going to be born any minute.
Doctors soon realized that they would also need the Running Brook Elementary School parent educator's translation talents in the delivery room. The pregnant girl's sister and Lee shared the duties of coach and encourager.
"I was right there in the room with her, telling her to push," Lee said. "It was an amazing night."
It also was Lee's birthday, which she shares with Carlos, the baby she helped deliver last month - a boy who will one day attend Columbia's Running Brook Elementary.
"She's not going to have any problem coming up here and registering him for school," Lee said with a laugh.
It's that kind of compassion and dedication that makes Running Brook successful in parent-community involvement in schools, Maryland State Department of Education officials said yesterday.
Three Running Brook teachers will be on a panel presenting their ideas and programs at Friday's annual Parent/Family Involvement Conference in Baltimore, sponsored by the State Department of Education, The Family Works and the Maryland PTA.
At this year's conference, "Family, School and Community: Connecting for Student Success," officials want schools to share ideas and help each other to help parents become more involved.
"We see this kind of involvement as a linchpin in our efforts to involve parents," state outreach specialist John Rosson said. "And Running Brook does a great job of doing that."
Parent involvement, the school's staff members say, does not just mean parents going to schools for conferences or field trips. It is just as important for the people in the school to go to the parents, they say.
Teachers and volunteers offer rides to and from parent-teacher conferences, the library or doctors appointments. They provide baby-sitting during important school meetings. They visit the homes of prekindergartners, making new pupils and parents familiar with Running Brook before they set foot there.
"We meet the pets, the stuffed animals," said Rachel Cook, the school's Extended Elementary Education Program teacher. "So when they get here and they're talking about their dog or their bear or their rabbit, we've already met it or held it or whatever."
Teachers call home to remind parents of coming events or exams. They have the children call home on the "Kermit phone" to share good news, and they send "positive postcards" in the mail, letting parents know their children are doing well. They prepare baskets stuffed with food and clothing donations over Thanksgiving and winter holidays.
Running Brook also has Howard County's only Parents as Teachers program, an early-intervention program that helps parents understand what to expect during each stage of their preschool-age children's development and simple things they can do to help the children be more prepared to learn in school.
Parent educators go into selected children's homes - soon after birth - at least once a week to instruct the parents and support them. Afterward, the child is ready to learn, and the parent has made a bond with a Running Brook staff member, Lee said.
`Link to the school'
"Because we're a link to the school, we help them feel comfortable with the school," Lee said, "which encourages them to come for parents nights, conferences, all the things that the school is open to them for."
Once they get there, the school makes them feel at home, parent Giomar Alarcon, who moved here from Colombia almost eight years ago, said through an interpreter.
"I feel comfortable in this school," said Alarcon, the mother of a fifth-grade daughter and a son in preschool. "The school has many other Spanish-speaking people, so I feel that any time I have a concern, I have someone to talk to."
More than 20 percent of Running Brook's pupils are Spanish-speaking. Bilingual parent liaison Marta Goodman interprets for the parents as part of her job, and other staff members speak Spanish or are learning.
Most meetings and all announcements sent home are translated into Spanish. The sign over Principal Marion Miller's door says "office" and "oficina."
Longtime volunteer Nancy Berla does not speak Spanish fluently, but Hispanic parents ask for "Miss Nancy" by name because of her involvement in their lives.
Yesterday, Berla hurried out of a meeting because she had promised a mother who does not have a car that she would take her to the dentist.
At the same time, Family Services Coordinator Carol Bucher prepared to take up a collection for the mother of a child who went to Running Brook four years ago and was killed over spring break.
"We don't ever release anyone," said Title I teacher Amy Tieperman. "No one's ever forgotten about or let go."