Parents of pupils at Chester Upland’s Main Street School have an honest dialogue with Principal April Brown.
How does my child’s school deal with bullying? Why isn’t my child getting homework? How does a child get picked to go on a school-sponsored trip to the circus while others are left behind? These are some of the questions that Main Street Elementary School Principal April Brown fielded in a recent session of Parents First, the workshop series for parents of children in grades pre-kindergarten to three, co-sponsored by Chester Eastside, Inc., and the Chester Upland School District.
Brown clearly knew her stuff, but also knew that the dialogue would be something ongoing. Among her attentive listeners was Amirah Ahmad, President of the Main Street PTO. How to get results in engaging the school system, from teachers on up, was only one of the topics covered in the workshop series.
The session with Principal Brown followed another with Climate Manager Lamonte Popley. With him, the parents focused specifically on the issue of bullying. He made it clear that Main Street School seeks, not only to deal with the bully firmly, but to try to head off that kind of behavior in the first place.
Over a period of ten weeks, the workshops focus on four major areas:
- mindset – parents’ assumptions about their children’s ability to succeed in school and about their own ability to affect that, which in turn affects a child’s confidence level and willingness to stay with a task even when things aren’t going well;
- setting and maintaining standards of behavior – not only at home but in school as well;
- reading to and with their children – not just to expand the children’s vocabulary and familiarity with the written word, but to use that to develop a child’s ability to think about the content covered;
- engaging the school system – working with the child’s teacher, dealing constructively with conflict when that arises, and taking thing to another level when necessary.
It starts at home
It’s not just teachers and the resources the school system provides for them that determine how strong an educational foundation a child will start out with. The first and in many ways most important teacher is the person raising that child, usually that means the parent. That’s why we say Parents First.
So it’s not surprising that we spend considerable time on things the parent can do at home – like reading to and with their child and molding the kind of behavior the child will take into the classroom. Even more basic is a “can do” attitude that parents infuse in their children. It starts with the parent’s own ability to maintain a “can do” attitude: Yes, my child can do it – and I can help to make it happen.
A positive rather than negative approach to discipline and being consistent, so a child knows what to expect, are core lessons in Parents First. And these are two areas where participants reported gains in before/after assessment. Another was not letting the inevitable frustrations in child-rearing cloud one’s judgment. Participants also became more active in contacting teachers and taking part in school activities, despite awesome responsibilities at home and at work. Parental involvement in the business of education is something the Main Street PTO will be following up on in the coming months.
Meanwhile, the children
While the parents engaged in the serious business of learning, their children were nearby, participating in a multi-faceted program of play, story time, and things like solving math puzzles. It’s called “child care,” but it clearly is much more than that. In the Parents First series just ended, a group of volunteers from Media brought story books and stuffed animals for the younger children and did one-on-one reading that their parents can build on.