School Gives Parents Education in Helping Students

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Every few months, Ana Hernandez looks forward to an evening out with her family. There'll be refreshments, door prizes, free child care and even puppet shows for the kids.

But more important to Hernandez is what she and her children learn on their night out. Hernandez learns how to make sure her children get a good education, and her children learn that school is a high priority in their family.

Such lessons are an integral part of Parent Involvement Nights at Richman Elementary School in Fullerton.

Since the program began about five years ago, participation has grown from about 20 parents to nearly 200 and much of the credit for that success goes to Yolanda McComb, Parent Involvement coordinator and a third-grade teacher at Richman.

It is McComb who lines up guest speakers--in English, Spanish and Vietnamese--for the popular series.

"What brings the parents to the programs is the meetings are presented in their language," she says.

Nearly 70% of the 740 pupils at Richman come from Spanish-speaking families and about 14% from Vietnamese-speaking families, according to McComb, who says the most difficult challenge is finding speakers who can present the parent workshops in three different languages.

Past workshop topics have included "Helping Your Child With Math and Science at Home," "The Wonders of Science at Home" and "Positive Parenting." The final program of the year, to be held Thursday, will be on "Gang Intervention."

Meetings are held from 6:45 to 8 p.m. at the school and start with a raffle to thank parents for attending and being on time. Then at 7 p.m. the group breaks up into three segments, depending upon language. Except for the language difference, all three programs are identical.

While parents are in the workshops, the children are being entertained with a puppet show, and when the program is over, parents and children get together for cookies and punch.

"It really is a family outing," McComb says. "A way to get the family together in a positive setting."

The goal of the program, according to Richman's principal Minard Duncan, is to help the pupils be more successful. "We do that by working with the parents," he said. "We are really trying hard to involve the families."

Parent involvement is where education in the '90s is headed, according to McComb. "When kids come with their parents or when they see their parents come, they realize that school is important," she says. "Just having a parent here is a support for kids. A lot of our parents are looking at day-to-day survival. It's hard for these parents to come out to a meeting like this after working all day."

That's why McComb and her 10-member committee provide free child care, refreshments and door prizes, all donated by area businesses.

"The teachers here and the community support this program, otherwise it wouldn't get done," she says. "This is not a project I made up. It is not my program. It is my school's program."

In fact, the program is the result of efforts by a number of people at the school and in the community, according to Duncan, who has been principal at Richman for the past nine years. "But Yolanda should get a lot of credit," he says. "She has done a wonderful job."

Part of McComb's job includes visits to other schools that are interested in starting similar programs.

"Parent involvement is taking a whole different turn," she says, pointing out that the Richman meetings are not PTA events. "We were discovering that PTA doesn't seem to attract parents anymore."

That doesn't mean that today's parents aren't interested in their children's education, she says. "Parents really want to help their kids. We had a program on positive parenting and it drew 216 parents, our biggest attendance ever."

During the current school year, average attendance has been about 175, an increase over last year's average of 115.

Parents such as Ana Hernandez attend the meetings regularly. Hernandez says that as a result of her involvement at the school, her three children are more enthusiastic about their studies. And she says that she has learned a lot from the programs, too.

"On math night we learned how to use things around the house--like beans--for counters, and how to help our kids with math at home," she says through an interpreter.

According to McComb, parents have also learned how to use community resources such as the Health Mobile from St. Jude Medical Center, how to prepare for an earthquake and how the educational system in the United States works, which she points out is especially important for parents who may be new to this country.

"For example, most (American) parents talk to their kids about college," McComb says. "The parents of our students do not."

That's because a lot of them don't know what to tell their children, she says, and many may not consider college as an option for their child. That's why last spring the Parent Involvement program focused on "College Opportunities for Your Child."

For McComb, herself a product of inner city Los Angeles, working with the parents at Richman School is extremely rewarding. "I see such a need for this," she says. "Parent involvement is where education is going."

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