About 20 parents report for classes on Thursday evenings at Lutie Lewis Coates Elementary School in Herndon.
Instructor Marcelo Ribera walks the moms and dads through a lesson on the importance of opening your child’s backpack every day after school, saying it can contain important communications from the teacher or principal, as well as information about school assemblies or registration forms sport or club.
The Coates Elementary Family Academy is intended to be a kind of boot camp for families adjusting to the American public education system. Family Liaison Solangie McPherson came up with the idea two years ago when, amid the pandemic, she saw a need to strengthen parent-teacher relationships at the school, where almost half the students are studying English and many families are new to the US
“I quickly realized that a lot of parents needed training, they wanted to help their kids but needed some kind of guide for the schools here,” McPherson said. And so the Coates Family Academy was born: those interested take courses in everything from early literacy, school vocabulary/English language instruction, computers/technology systems to parental rights/responsibilities.
Things that are now commonplace in US public education, like teachers sending Genius sign-up forms to parents to volunteer in class or schedule a conference, or knowing how to use a laptop to teach a child Helping with virtual learning proved challenging for some parents, McPherson said. Buzzwords in the school system such as the abbreviation AAP for Advanced Academic Programs or IEP for individualized education program, a term from special education, are unknown to many newcomers to the USA, she says.
“Disadvantaged families need support across the board,” said Jorge Figueredo, executive director of Edu-Futuro, a regional nonprofit that is an FCPS Ignite partner and provides curriculum, meal funding, childcare and other expenses — including pay of the trainer Ribera for his time – tied to the family academy.
“Things that are easy for many families, like filling out online school forms, are not easy for some of the families we serve,” Figueredo said. “They don’t have a computer at home, and they didn’t know they could use their phones for these things, so we teach them how to use their smartphones, and how to use a laptop, and we start with the basics like that.” Importance of the Enter key and that’s what we’re building their skills on.”
Those who complete at least four courses in five different subject areas during the school year become official graduates of Coates Family Academy in June. Last year, 16 parents received this award.
Every Thursday the participants meet at 6 p.m. and start with a dinner together.
“The idea is that we’re going to give you everything you need to be supported as a parent in your learning,” McPherson said. “Typically, parents finish at 6pm so they don’t rush home after school and work and try to eat quickly in hopes of getting out the door to participate in this program. They come here, they eat together, there is no rush and they focus on learning.”
After dinner, the children participate in free tutoring provided by FCPS students from nearby Rachel Carson Middle School, who patiently listen to the young elementary school students read to them and then, after spending time with academics, attend the elementary school students take extracurricular activity classes such as hip-hop dance or soccer.
Meanwhile, the parents are reading the books. Sometimes it’s an Edu-Futuro sponsored course aimed at helping parents of tweens and teens set boundaries, set goals and help their children avoid peer pressure, sometimes it’s a course on positive discipline for elementary school students run by a department of FCPS.
On this special Thursday in October, Marcelo Ribera, an immigrant from Bolivia and himself an FCPS parent, is hosting a Jeopardy-like game for the parents as they brush up on their knowledge of parental rights and school district responsibilities.
“Can parents attend their children’s classes?” Ribera asks the group in Spanish. Most parents scream “No!” in response. Ribera shakes his head and says in Spanish: “Actually YES. Parents have the opportunity to attend classes and have lunch with their children if they make an appointment in advance and arrange it with the teacher and principal.”
Ribera then lists ways the school would welcome parental involvement, e.g. B. voluntary work in the library, support in the cafeteria or accompanying an excursion.
Throughout the game are questions about what constitutes an excused absence from school (illness, a doctor’s appointment, or an emergency such as a death in the family were all acceptable answers) and what to do if your child is having trouble in class ( make an appointment with the teacher first).
Yesika Cruz, a Honduran immigrant and mother of a fifth grader at Coates, says she attends the weekly meetings because she wants to know what parents expect within the FCPS.
“I’m learning how to talk to teachers, who to contact if my child is ill, what kind of questions to ask at conferences, e.g. like what different levels mean for reading and math, how I can help at home,” says Cruz.
Ada Flores, one of Coates’ mothers who moved to the United States from El Salvador, says she has learned that the American education system expects more two-way communication with parents.
“We all come here because we want to be better for our children, we want to be empowered parents, there is so much information here, we just need to know how to use it,” Flores said.
Their hard work shows, says Coates Elementary School principal Paul Basdekis of those who attend the family academy.
“It sends a clear message to our children that we are all learners,” says Basdekis. “These parents commit to continued learning so they can lead and strengthen their families.”
Some of the participating parents have even become FCPS employees who work at Coates themselves, he adds.
McPherson, the school’s family liaison that created the program with support from Edu-Futuro, says she sees the payoff for parents who commit to attending.
“The parents who took these courses are very independent now,” McPherson said. “We gave them the resources, now they do it on their own. You can see that even though English is not their first language, they feel more confident, that they can get involved and support their children, and that they know how to ask for help when they need it.”
Learn more about FCPS Ignite partnerships
Explore family commitments in FCPS