Alexandria public schools have set up a Parent Resource Center to help the parents of children who are not performing well.

The center will teach parents how to help their children improve reading and communication skills, give them educational games they can play with their children and set up a system in which parents can support one another.

Alexandria School Board Chairman Timothy Elliott said the board approved the resource center last year. "One of the needs that has been identified is the need to get parents more involved with the education of their children.

"The resource center will help, particularly with our minority achievement program," Elliott said. " . . . . The center will be very good to assure that all the children have the support systems in the classroom and at home to aid in their better education."

At the center's opening last month, parents gave suggestions for encouraging reading at home.

"I liked the idea that one woman had," said Aurania Nichols, coordinator of the program. "She designated her daughter as the official card reader in the house, and whenever cards come in the daughter gets to read them to the other family members."

"A lot of parents suggested having children read recipes while the parent is cooking," said Gerri Hogan, a chairwoman of the Chapter 1 parent advisory council.

The center is part of a larger program called Chapter 1, a federally funded program for children who need help improving reading, language or math skills beyond the local effort.

The Parent Resource Center deals only with reading and communication skills, Nichols explained. It does not help parents work with children who have problems in mathematics.

All activities, newsletters and announcements from the center are in English and Spanish so that Hispanic parents who are not fluent in English can participate.

"If you are not able to help your child academically, that does not mean you're not a good parent," said Sharon Spellman Whitfield, one of two full-time parent coordinators with the Chapter 1 program.

"Teachers will refer a child to us who they feel is in need of help" with reading, Whitfield explained. "The teacher may feel the child is overly withdrawn or . . . might have overly aggressive behavior, or a child that has been functioning very highly and all of a sudden is not performing well."

Whitfield, and the other parent coordinator, Magda Leon, visit the homes of students referred to them and talk to the parents on how to help the child read, and recommend workshops at the resource center.

"We're not looking to make teachers out of parents," Whitfield said. "We're looking to increase parental involvement in changing their child's attitude towards learning . . . . We want to help parents learn to be more supportive and to encourage their children" in developing study habits.

"Sometimes we have to say to parents, 'Your child needs you,' and I don't know of any way to massage that," she said. Whitfield said some parents just need help to find time to work with their children's reading.

A recent newsletter from the center gave tips to parents who want to encourage their children to read, including "develop the habit of taking your child to the library," "let your child see you read," "buy interesting books that are of your child's choosing," and "let your child read books to you."

The center offers several workshops, but Nichols said she hopes to make it more of a central resource center with educational games and other materials that parents can check out. Workshops will be offered in behavioral management and how parents can build a positive relationship with their child.

"I've talked to parents when a child brings home homework they {the parents} don't understand, so {the parents} get frustrated and the child gets frustrated," Hogan said.

"Now those parents can come {to the center} and get help by going to workshops," Hogan said.

The resource center is at Charles Barrett Elementary School, 1115 Martha Custis Dr. The city received $913,000 in state and federal funds to run the program in the 1987-88 school year.