Helping parents navigate schools

Staff writerDecember 7, 2013 

Mastering the alphabet soup of terminology used for education programs can be tough enough. But learning how the actual programs affect your child can be a first step toward building better relationships between parents and schools.

At two elementary schools on Tacoma’s East Side — Lister and Sheridan — parents are working to expand their knowledge about how schools operate.

An estimated 45 parents from the two schools and surrounding community have enrolled in a 10-week program sponsored by the education advocacy group Stand for Children. It’s called Stand University for Parents, and, like many programs in education, it has its own abbreviation: Stand UP.

It’s designed to increase what parents know about public education and increase family involvement in it, with the hope that better-informed families can help students succeed in school and be prepared to attend college.

“We want to provide a basic understanding of the educational system, from the statehouse to the school house,” said Kellie Richardson, family engagement manager for Stand for Children in Tacoma. “We are trying to help parents be informed advocates for their kids’ education.”

Stand UP has been taught in Memphis, Chicago and Phoenix. Tacoma is the first West Coast location, Richardson said.

There is one Stand UP class at Lister, and two at Sheridan — one for English speakers and another for Spanish speakers.

Altogether, about 45 parents are enrolled in the three classes. Classes began in late October and run through mid-December, when parents will attend a “graduation” ceremony.

On Tuesday night, 11 parents gathered at a Stand UP session at Lister to hear from school Principal Kate Frazier.

She talked about test scores and showed a video illustrating how students from low-income households start their academic careers behind their more affluent peers — and over time, the gaps grow.

The gaps are present at Lister, which sits in the middle of the Salishan public housing development and serves a school population in which more than 90 percent of kids qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch.

One part of Frazier’s presentation showed how far English Language Learner students, as a group, fell behind Lister’s goals on state tests last year. The school’s target was to have 36.3 percent of ELL students passing both the math and reading tests. But only about 21 percent passed reading. In math, those students were even farther behind the target, with only 14 percent passing the test.

Lister parent Kenneth Miles said he was surprised more ELL kids had a harder time with math than with reading. He assumed kids who spoke limited English would succeed in the universal language of math.

But Frazier, along with some other parents, explained that today’s math testing requires increased literacy skills. Students aren’t just asked for the correct answer; they must explain in writing how they arrived at their answer.

Miles suggested the school host another “math night” to help parents learn how to help their children with math. He said last year’s math night was poorly attended, but he believes the school and parents should try again.

Miles, who is president of Lister’s first PTA in decades, said parents are paying attention to school issues. But he said it’s difficult to persuade them to come to school events.

“If like-minded folks got together, we could start putting some work behind these ideas,” he said.

Other parents agree.

Allison Cross, a mother of four who works two jobs, says making time for her children’s education is important. That’s why she enjoyed attending Saturday morning classes with her oldest son when he was at Lister. She’d like to see the discontinued Saturday program return for her two children who now attend the school.

“If they can’t find funding, maybe they could find volunteers,” Cross suggested.

Likewise, she says making time to attend the Stand UP program has been worth it.

“A lot of parents just leave it up to the school,” she said. “But everything you need to learn is not just from the school. Parents need to take more of a leadership role in their kids’ education.”

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 debbie.cafazzo@the newstribune.com @DebbieCafazzo

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