Learning Matters: Parent Ed and co-op programs deserve expansion

My husband and I have been lucky, particularly as parents. As I look toward Thanksgiving, I'm mindful of the good fortune and help we've had along the way, starting with the Realtors who helped us find our house in 1981.

It was Mary Ann Plumley — before her service on City Council — who told us about Glendale Community College's parent education program. We weren't parents yet, so I tucked away the information. But when our parenting adventure began, I remembered her advice and signed up for the Parent Ed toddler class.

Parent Ed, still offered at a few sites around the community, is a once-weekly class for parents, whose preschool children come along and serve as the subject matter. Not only does Parent Ed offer reassuring advice from early childhood specialists; it fosters friendships among new and experienced parents while they observe and discuss the range of childhood behaviors.

From Parent Ed classmates I gained two very valuable pieces of information. I learned about a local cooperative nursery school and heard good things about our neighborhood school, of which I knew little. I was referred to Betty De Rosa, a parent active on the GCC Parent Education Assn., whose older child attended John Muir Elementary.

The word was, "Betty likes it." Sometimes all it takes is a good word from the right person. So it was, thanks to a few people, that we and our three children became a co-op family and were later welcomed into the John Muir PTA.

Like Parent Ed, co-ops differ from most preschools by focusing on both children and their parents. Still commonly called "nursery schools" rather than the often more academically structured "preschools," co-ops help parents nurture children's social and emotional development. Co-ops require regular parent participation as classroom assistants, under the direction of a teacher.

Children learn by playing — digging in the sand, painting at easels, singing in circle time, building and knocking down blocks. Parents learn by watching the play and practicing positive responses to it: "Keep the sand in the sandbox," rather than "Don't throw sand!" or "Good drivers don't bump other trikes," versus "Stop bumping the trike!"

While working as assistants, parents are encouraged to leave the instruction of their own child to the teacher or other parents. It builds community (the PTA motto, "All children are our children," could serve as a co-op motto), but it is also a valuable exercise for parents. By exposing yourself to others' children and not allowing yourself to focus solely on your own, you gain useful perspective.

Parent Ed programs and co-op nursery schools have decreased in number since our children were young, for many reasons: more parents working full time, shrinking state funding for adult education, and most recently the appearance of transitional kindergarten classes currently available for children with October and November birthdays.

GCC has 22 Parent Ed classes this semester, down from the 33 or so it offered a few years ago. The co-op our children attended closed in 1996. But for those parents who can arrange the time allowed from their work schedules to participate in their child's earliest years of education, the rewards are significant.

Of my Parent Ed and co-op friends, many became leaders in their children's elementary and secondary schools. Quite a few became teachers in either pre-kindergarten or K-12 education. (Betty De Rosa retired this year after teaching in both elementary and middle school.)

From discussions I've had with current parents and teachers at two co-ops remaining on the outskirts of Glendale — Crescenta-Canada Nursery School and Los Feliz Nursery School — the pattern of continued parent involvement remains.

At a recent visit to the Crescenta-Canada co-op, I was given a booklet of information and suggestions for parents. In it I found an entry written by Mary Rose Grim, another retired teacher and administrator. Miss Grim, as her former students still know her, told me she wrote it years ago when she was supervising elementary schools.

The first and last lines read, "Children are very much like trees; they differ in kind and form….And we need to remember that in working with children as well as in working with wood, for best results, always sand with the grain."

I would love to see the day when some form of the Parent Ed and co-op experience becomes a part of every family's education. I want us all to be lucky enough to start school in an environment of such affirmation.

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JOYLENE WAGNER is a former member of the GUSD Governing Board. You can reach her at jkate4400@aol.com. For information on Parent Ed or the co-ops mentioned, go to http://www.glendale.edu, http://www.ccns.org, or http://www.lfns.org.

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