Program's top `goal' is students' success

Families Learning Together works to improve parenting through literacy

September 24, 2006|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,Sun Reporter

With her tiny hands grasping one of four puzzle pieces shaped like bears, Melinda Harding, 3, surveys the wooden puzzle board's four empty spots. Methodically, she tests each hole to see if the red bear will fit. Eventually, with a little bit of help, she finds a home for the red bear, the blue bear, the green bear and the littlest one of all, the yellow bear.

It's a scene in a portable classroom outside of Robert Moton Elementary in Westminster that her mother, Jessy Harding, marvels at as she watches from a few feet away. She said Melinda's educational strides are, in large part, the result of the hardworking and attentive teachers with the Families Learning Together program.

"She learned her ABCs here when she was 2 years old," said Harding, 34, who moved to Taneytown from Panama about two years ago. "At home, she counts to 20."

The program uses small-group and one-on-one sessions, as well as home visits, to build literacy and parenting skills in an effort to boost student performance in school.

"Success of the child is the ultimate goal," said program director, Sue Lysy.

Families Learning Together - a state and locally funded program - has existed in Carroll County's school system in various forms for the past 16 years. It is designed to bridge the gap between home and school by helping parents build educational and parenting skills to better help their children with homework and to be better advocates for their children in the school system.

The program offers assistance to parents who want to earn their GED or need help learning English. The directors arrange activities for parents and children to do together, such as a coming field trip to the White House. Before the trip, parents and children learn significant facts about their destination.

In addition to the Westminster site, the program is offered at Northwest Middle School - serving Taneytown, Elmer Wolfe and Runnymede elementaries, Northwest and New Windsor middles and Francis Scott Key High - and at Manchester Elementary to serve the North Carroll region.

The program served about 120 families last year, said Lynda Gainor, the school system's coordinator of intervention services. So far this year, about 40 families have enrolled.

Preschool classes are offered in the morning and adult education classes, such as GED preparation and ESOL, are offered in the evenings. Throughout much of the day, participants are invited to come in for one-on-one sessions with either of the program's directors, Lysy and Gail Muhl.

Harding said she discovered Families Learning Together when she started a course in English for Speakers of Other Languages. The program has a partnership with Carroll Community College, which provides ESOL instructors. She started bringing Melinda along for preschool classes when she was 18 months old.

"When I first started learning English [in the program] there were people talking all around me - Indonesian, Mexican, Russian. It was overwhelming," said Harding, a civil engineer who met her American-born husband in Panama where they both worked with the railroad company. "But they told me not to worry about my accent, and [eventually] I lost my fear of learning English."

Audrey Peterson, 41, of Westminster, has been involved with the program for about nine years. She said the program gives her an opportunity to learn and share.

"You get to meet people who have some of the same issues, such as a child who isn't learning the way you think they should be," said Peterson, who also is studying for her GED through the program.

"It also shows your kids not to be afraid to ask for help," Peterson said. "When they see us asking for help, they see it's OK."

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