Parents asked to help kids learn

Caregivers encouraged to spend 15 minutes a day reinforcing schoolwork

Involvement seen as critical

State to provide resources for education program

September 30, 2002|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Parent involvement often is praised by teachers and school administrators as one of the most important factors that contribute to a child's academic success.

But even more than baking brownies for PTA fund-raisers, parents are most effectively involved, educators say, when children see how they feel about learning.

In an effort to make sure that learning continues after children leave the classroom, the state Department of Education has launched an initiative to help Maryland parents and caregivers encourage more children to read, to participate in school and to enjoy learning.

The program - "Take 15 for the Family: Building a Lifetime of Learning" - is a collaboration between the state education department and schools, libraries and businesses across Maryland that's designed to build a greater awareness that parent involvement is critical.

"It always worries me when [students] leave our buildings every day, whether they will have the kind of reinforcement they need," said Baltimore schools Chief Executive Officer Carmen V. Russo, at the program's launch last week at Harford Heights Elementary School in East Baltimore.

"Take 15" refers to 15 minutes, the minimum time parents are encouraged to spend with their children reading and discussing school topics. Program officials said parents could engage children in learning-related activities or conversations while cooking dinner, shopping or driving.

The program provides resources for parents, including activity lists, information about free educational programs and discounts on admission to Port Discovery and the Maryland Science Center.

It also will have components concentrating on parent skills and adult literacy. That's particularly important in Baltimore, where 38 percent of the city's adults are functionally illiterate - nearly double the statewide percentage of 20 percent.

"Some parents say they are scared to come into the school, because they can't read," said Deborah Banks, coordinator of the Baltimore City Public Schools Title I and Federal Grants programs. "They're afraid the teacher might ask them a question they don't know, or ask them to read."

Officials said the state's initiative would help alleviate that concern.

One such parent-targeted program, Even Start, has had a successful three-year run at Harford Heights. In this type of program, parents are given help with reading skills, assistance in earning a high school equivalency certificate and help in finding employment.

"By doing this, [parents] will become literate, and they will be better able to assist their children with reading," Banks said.

Russo said she is eager to see other schools take advantage of the state's literacy initiative.

Parents who have participated in Harford Heights' Even Start program - which has used the Take 15 philosophy for years - say they can see the results.

"I take 15 for each of my kids to read to them and then they read to me," said April Blackwell. Blackwell, 39, could not read well when she began Even Start but went back to college and now works at Harford Heights as a paraprofessional.

"My 6-year-old, she wants to read so bad," Blackwell said. "I tell her, `You read the words that you can pronounce and I'll help you with the rest.'"

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