CUDAHY : Class Gives Parents New Skills, Strategies

Victoria Fernandez believes she can raise her children better and be more involved in their education now that she has graduated from a parenting class at Elizabeth Street School.

"Even though I have a 19-year-old son, I still learned more about being a parent to my younger child," said Fernandez, one of 200 parents, most of them Latino, who graduated last week from an eight-week training course designed to help parents keep their kids in school--a problem that has afflicted the Latino community for years.

"Traditionally, parents from the Latino culture don't get involved with school," said John F. Kershaw, principal of the 2,500-student school. Since the program ended, "I've already had parents come in and ask for their child's grades. This is very positive."

Course topics included how to communicate with teachers, keep children out of gangs and prepare for college.

But the best information, Fernandez said, was learning how to better communicate with her 7-year-old child.

"It's not a matter of telling them what to do as much as using psychology to motivate them to go to school," said Fernandez, whose 19-year-old son recently moved out on his own.

How to discipline a child and how to deal with children who resist punishment were other hot topics, Fernandez said.

"We have found that people are changing in the way they discipline their children--especially in corporal punishment," said Margie Madrigal, director of Parent Institute in Los Angeles. "Parents tell me, 'Ya no le grito tanto a mi nino (I don't yell at my kids too much anymore). I'd rather communicate with him than hit him.' "

Created by Vahac Mardirosian, a Baptist minister who lives in San Diego, the Parent Institute for Quality Education has been encouraging parent-teacher-student relationships since 1987 through parenting courses at local elementary schools.

The program was introduced in Los Angeles in 1992 with a $450,000 grant by World Vision, a nonprofit Monrovia-based Christian organization.

Funding requirements for the program range from $10,000 to $24,000, depending on the size of the school. It costs $80 per parent.

"Parenting initiative is something that businesses are beginning to have a big interest in supporting," said Lucinda Galindo, an educational services consultant at Southern California Edison, which funded most of the Elizabeth Street School course.

The institute hopes to graduate 100,000 parents in the next five years. The Elizabeth Street School parents were among the first of about 15,000 parents expected to receive parenting diplomas from 80 schools in 1995.

Corona Avenue Elementary School in Bell and Gage Middle School in Huntington Park will begin the course in mid-April.

Information: (213) 255-2575.

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