Officials consider creating parent academy in Prince George’s County

Searching for a way to encourage parental involvement in education in Prince George’s County, elected officials said Saturday that they would like to create a county-wide family academy that would offer workshops that provide parenting tips, information about child development and student achievement and tools for navigating the school system.

Prince George’s Council member Derrick L. Davis (D-Mitchellville), who hosted a forum at Ernest Just Middle School in Mitchellville, said parents have to become more involved for the school system, which has made modest strides in state test scores in recent years, to move forward.

“To me, [a parent academy is] a vehicle to high academic achievement for every child,” he said.

Teacher qualifications, class size and school leadership play key roles in a child’s academic development, Davis said, but “the intangible fourth component is parent and community involvement, and we haven’t figured out how to achieve it.”

Family or parent academies operate across the country in places like Miami and Greensboro, N.C., and throughout the Washington region, including Arlington, the District and Montgomery County.

There are currently two parent academies operating in Prince George’s: Side By Side, in operation since 2007 and run by a nonprofit group based in Laurel, and the Family Academy, which recently opened at First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Landover.

Neither receives school system funding.

School board member Carolyn Boston said a nonprofit in her district is planning to open a parent academy next month. As a former parent liaison for the school system, Boston said she knows firsthand that the school board “can’t do it alone. We need to encourage the parents.”

Davis and Boston said they did not know how much a county-wide academy, supported by the school system would cost or how it would be operated. Davis said Saturday’s forum was the beginning of those discussions.

In Montgomery County, where the academy is run by the school system, workshops have addressed the following topics: “Back Talk, Eye Rolls and Attitude: How to Respond When Children are Disrespectful,” “Computer Safety and Social Media,” and “Motivating Kids to Read.”

Dana Tofig, a Montgomery schools spokesman, said the workshops are “getting more traction every year.” He said the biggest draws in recent years are programs on college preparation and special education.

The Arlington school system partners with PTAs and other organizations on parent workshops. Some are designed for those who speak English as a second language. Some address social issues, while others provide information about colleges.

Phil Lee, a community activist in Prince George’s, said sparse attendance at the Saturday forum indicated a need for the school board and the council to work together on education.

“There isn’t the community involvement like there should be,” Lee said. “We have an apathetic community, and we have to find a way to deal with it.”

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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