Sergio Rodriguez rode the school bus and walked through the woods with his daughter Giuliana. He stopped to let the first-grader try a musical instrument, discussed local wildlife, and followed her to an outdoor lecture.
The visit to Howard Christensen Nature Center earlier this semester was just one of the many reasons Rodriguez touts the benefits of Kent City’s Parents are Teachers program.
“With the resources provided us, I have been able to spend quality time with my children and have continued to expand my knowledge and understanding of parents as the first teachers of our children,” he said.
The PAT program has multiple focuses, said Will Lepech, Kent City Elementary vice-principal and director of special services. “But one thing we are really trying to do is get parents to understand that they can partner with us to do some of the academic pieces,” he said.
Another PAT focus is to cement connections with the growing Hispanic community.
Kent City Community Schools offers special programming in the fall for migrant populations, so PAT is offered during the spring semester when seasonal families travel south for work opportunities. Funded by a U.S. Department of Education Title III grant, the eight-week program is designed to provide educational support for English language learners.
“Some of our parents do not have much knowledge of the English language,” said Lepech. Staff aids parents with English translation with their children and helps them find ways to work on basics such as reading and math. “We want them to know that time is a gift to their kids, as well as make sure they feel special and comfortable sending their children to school.”
Routine, Techniques, Support
A typical afternoon at PAT begins with reading time.The routine helps emphasize the importance of reading, but also gives staff time to guide parents in the process. They learn techniques for asking questions about the reading, and it gives them a chance to practice reading as well, said Katie Gipe, Kent City’s ELL coordinator along with ELL teacher Bethany Kamps.
Staff is always on the lookout for ways they can support the parents and encourage them to be better educators in the home, she said.
Games include those that building language skills. “For instance, sometimes we throw a ball from person to person, calling out a rhyming word in Spanish and English,” Gipe said.
Also on the PAT agenda are teaching math strategies, dealing with emotional issues and drawing awareness to learning through activities.
“We talk about “love languages” and help them find ways to support their child,” she said.
Field trips are a great way to cement family bonds, share educational experiences and work on language skills, Gipe said. PAT trips also have included a walk beside the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids with a visit to the Grand Rapids Public Museum, art museums and the library.