Parents helping kids – and teachers

On a recent December afternoon, teachers and administrators at St. Mary’s Academy Elementary School – led by Scholastic representatives Sherry Wilkerson and Sherri Wilson – collaborated to create math ideas they could use to engage parents in their child’s education during parent nights.

Using art supplies that Scholastic provided, the teachers were divided into table groups and were given time to plan a math activity based on a particular goal.

At this particular workshop, they decided to compare numbers for a hypothetical “Fun Family” parent night. They were instructed to include a link to learning, use developmental vocabulary and build a bond between teachers and parents by using activities that were interactive, collaborative and relational.

When time was up, each group explained its activity and how the group members had reached goal objectives.

A family partnership

The workshop was part of the pilot project called Scholastic Family and Community Engagement (FACE) that is “rooted in the research and best practices of the Dual-Capacity Building Framework for Family-School partnerships developed by the U.S. Department of Education.” Over three full-day sessions, using Dr. Karen Mapp’s Family Engagement Workshop series, St. Mary’s Academy staff and faculty gained strategies to “improve student performance and enable school systemic advancement through family engagement in schools.”

The first session was designed to elevate family engagement by developing a foundation. Research has proven that if parents understand what is going on in the classroom and given the tools to help their children at home, students will see that their parents care and many times will try harder and become more motivated in school.

During the second and third workshop sessions, teachers designed interactive activities to engage families throughout the school year and establish learning goals.

In Mapp’s own experience over more than 20 years, she said the Family Engagement Workshop Series “provides educators with the training they need to become ongoing partners with families, allowing them to foster student success together.”

Decided to focus on math

When St. Mary’s educators were discussing among themselves the subject that was to be their point of initial concentration, they decided math would be most beneficial to enlist parental involvement.

“We’ve found that children are lacking skills in math, and we’re trying to find ways to help parents enhance their math skills,” St. Mary’s librarian and lead elementary teacher Norma Bemiss said.

“It’s a wonderful program,” Bemiss said. “I can’t say enough about it. The FACE pilot provides us with a framework to partner with our families and communities to ensure all students have the opportunity to benefit from the highest quality instruction.”

In addition to on-site training, Scholastic provides workbooks with lesson plans, achievement goals aligned to state and national standards and evaluation of a school’s efforts. Access to Scholastic BookFLIX allows teachers and parents to discover hundreds of multimedia eBooks and video storybooks – science, fiction and non-fiction – and 1,100 curated websites on their Smart Boards, phones and home computers 24 hours a day. The books enhance “reading, writing, speaking and listening skills” in the classroom and at home for students in pre-kindergarten through third grade, and many are in Spanish, Wilkerson said.

A month prior to the first Scholastic session, fourth-grade teachers already had had one parent meeting where they served red beans and rice. The importance of interacting with parents was evident.

“What we gained was a sense of community,” said fourth-grade teacher Valencia Blouin-Duncan. “The parents were very engaged and were willing to help their children. They were asking for more sessions.”

Fellow fourth-grade math teacher Lisa Moore said she’s noticed a slight increase in math scores since parents were encouraged and involved in helping their children. And, the kids were excited having their parents’ help, she said.

“We met many new parents, and they felt comfortable and want to come back,” she said. “the kids have more confidence in their work, having the support of their parents.”

Scholastic representative Wilson said teachers don’t often get a lot of training in college on how to engage families in their children’s education. Once they complete a workshop, teachers feel more at ease in how to reach out to parents and give Scholastic positive feedback after their parent sessions.

“Schools saw that changes in their practices had an impact,” Wilson said. “When you engage families in learning using focused activities, we’ve heard that is has completely transformed how they interact with families and how teachers see families in a different way. It results in better relationships and partnerships with families.”

The goal of the in-school meetings is to bring parents and a school community together.
“We encourage parents and staff to engage with their children academically,” Bemiss said. “We let the teacher teach the parents how they are educating the students in the classroom.”

Christine Bordelon can be reached at

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