12/09/08 — Kitchen Table Conversations -- Take 2

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Kitchen Table Conversations -- Take 2

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 9, 2008 1:46 PM

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Jennifer Chaney, center, parent of a sophomore at Eastern Wayne High School, brainstorms ideas with Southern Academy Principal Robert Yelverton, left, and the table's discussion facilitator, Debbie Pittman, right, during the second Wayne County Public Schools Board of Education Kitchen Table Conversation held at the Oak Forest Church of Christ in Goldsboro Monday evening.

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Mount Olive Middle School parent Towanda Hagans listens as group members share ideas during Monday night's discussion. The topic for the evening was parental involvement and its importance for schools and students.

Towanda Hagans is proud to be a volunteer in her children's schools.

She is on the Parent Advisory Council at Carver Elementary School, where her son is a student, and volunteers in the office at her daughter's school, Mount Olive Middle.

On Monday evening, she brought daughter Sha'H Hagans with her to the school district's second Kitchen Table Conversation, where parental involvement was the topic.

"I got to hear what other people do to help us in our school," Sha'H said afterward.

Her mom had prepared her for the two-hour discussion beforehand.

"I was basically asking her -- I'm involved, anyway -- but what would she think if I wasn't?" Ms. Hagans said.

Sha'H said she appreciates having her mother close by during the school day.

"It makes me think that she cares a lot about my education and that she's interested in what I'm learning," she said.

"I know it makes her proud and that I care," her mother said. "I'm a concerned parent. I like to know what's involved in my kids' schools. If something comes up, it's your fault, not theirs, because you should be there to see what's going on. ... Sometimes I think I care too much, but I feel like I'm making a difference."

The Kitchen Table Conversation, held at Oak Forest Church of Christ, drew fewer than 50 parents and community members.

But that did not discourage Board of Education member Thel-ma Smith.

"If we had only two, that would be enough, because that would be two parents interested in their child's education," she said.

Patsy Faison, principal at Tommy's Road Elementary School, again served as facilitator. She espoused the importance of parents.

"Parents are the first teachers and our role is to provide tools and strategies for parents to help educate children," she said.

Wayne County Public Schools already has several programs and efforts in place to include parents and guardians.

Dr. Willette Stanley, director of federal programs, and Mary McKoy, Title I parent facilitator, discussed some of the initiatives used in the district's Title I -- or federally funded -- schools. Among them are a parent advisory council, take-home computer program and parent workshops.

More traditional efforts include a parent advisory council in every school, as well as Parent Teacher Associ-ations, or PTAs, added Olivia Pierce, executive director of community relations.

Groups were asked to weigh in on three breakout questions -- what works with parent involvement efforts, why more parents are not involved and non-traditional approaches to reach parents who are not involved.

Some of the answers given of working efforts that currently involve parents in the schools included Booster Club, PTA, PTO, open door policy, parent gatherings on a Saturday, open house, field trips and sporting events.

Reasons more parents are not involved ranged from difficulty getting time off work and the inability to help with school work, to lack of transportation, a negative experience with the school, unawareness of resources available, on to children feeling embarrassed by parents and lack of education or parenting skills.

Then came time to consider some solutions. Participants were asked to think outside the box for suggestions.

James Smith, whose son is a senior at Goldsboro High School, suggested when there is a function, collecting cell phones and requiring parents to come pick up their children.

Others thought reaching out to the parents through their children might help.

"Our group decided that a good way would be to have some type of reward or incentive," Janet Brock said. "Let the student motivate the parents to get involved, and then the student gets a reward."

Time is a critical factor for many, the parents said.

"The world has gotten itself into a big rush. Oftentimes parents and children do not sit down and share a meal together," said Danny King, who recommended preparing a "sit-down meal" that could combine a fun activity and entertainment. The model could also serve as a template, he added, training children to prepare a meal for their parents.

All in all, the process of bringing parents and community members to the table can yield some great possibilities for the future, Mrs. Faison said.

"We're in this thing together," she said. "We're going to take all of these strategies and recommendations and put them in a final presentation and make them available for you to see."

And the discussions will continue, with the next event tentatively set for Feb. 23 and a fourth planned before school year's end.

If Mrs. Smith has her way, the topics will become more provocative each time.

"We have asked to do one on transfers," she said. "That's a topic that's on everybody's lips. ... We would like to know what parents feel. A lot of people are sending their children all over Wayne County."

The district's transfer policy has long been a controversial topic, Mrs. Smith said, terming it one of the school system's biggest issues.