School Workshops Help Families Compare Notes on Parenting

By Yamiche Alcindor
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 1, 2009

Have you ever wished that every baby came with a parenting manual? The parent might whip it out every time a child rolled his or her eyes or refused to do homework. It might even have photos of adorable children accompanied by parental testimonials about what raising that not-so-well-behaved child was like.

Parenting doesn't usually begin with a course or a go-to guide. But Side by Side, an educational nonprofit group based in Prince George's County, says it hopes that a series of workshops and roundtable discussions will help parents at seven Laurel elementary schools exchange experiences and gain insight into how best to support their children's education.

"We're looking at a long-term commitment of making Prince George's County schools the best they can be," said Joe Murchison, president of Side by Side. "It's about training parents to help their kids succeed in school."

Last Thursday evening, more than 100 parents participated in the first of five Family Academy workshops scheduled at Deerfield Run Elementary for parents at that school and those whose children attend Bond Mill, Harrison, Laurel, Montpelier, Oaklands and Scotchtown Hills elementary schools. Groups of parents, spread throughout the school's library, discussed what resources might make raising an elementary school student easier.

"The idea is that parents will help their kids so that they will come into school ready to learn," Murchison said. He said he hopes the sessions will translate into more school enrichment programs and higher test scores.

Theresa Graneau, president of Deerfield Run's parent-teacher organization, said communication among parents is key to raising a child. She has two sons, Robert, 10, and Stephen, 13, and said that speaking with other parents makes raising her boys easier. "As a parent, you have to network with other parents," she said. "We have to watch out for each other's kids. Knowing your neighbors can reduce crime."

The workshops are designed for whole families. While parents met Thursday, volunteers entertained school-age children with an animal show and games. Child care was provided for children 2 to 5. The groups also divided into English- and Spanish-speaking parents. Funding for the series, which Murchison said costs about $1,000 per session, comes from churches, businesses and residents.

"The whole idea is to give kids and parents a chance to be together and give input to Side by Side and the schools so that they can get a better sense of what parents need," said Jody Kiser, vice president of Side by Side.

Last Thursday, parents said they would like to learn more about classroom management, behavior problems and financial management. Parents also said they hoped to learn how to make their children understand their financial limitations.

Curtis Johnson Jr., 41, said he enjoyed learning about other families. "Parents don't always know how to deal with everything, so it was good to get ideas from other parents," he said.

Hazel Noel agreed. A mother of four, she said conversations like those sponsored by Side by Side are critical. "Unless we come out and talk to each other, we won't know what's going on," she said. "When you're involved like this, you won't feel like you're alone."

Michael Robinson, who oversees community outreach for the county schools, said he hopes the sessions will have far-reaching effects. "I think this is a wonderful way for parents to make an impact on students' social and academic lives," he said.

Graneau said she hopes the workshops will continue to bring parents together. "Parental engagement is key to a child's educational success," she said. "If we have parental involvement in school, it carries over into the community."

The next Family Academy night is scheduled for Oct. 15. Parents can reserve a space by e-mailing or calling 301-725-8179 or by signing up at their child's school office.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company