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Making the Connection

By Anita Merina

From story quilt and workships to advocacy training, school-based program cretively engages parents.


Parents become roving readers at Columbia
Elementary School in Prince Georges County, Md.

When parents and students come from various countries, different backgrounds, and even have language or literacy skills that vary, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to begin with parent outreach and involvement.

At Mt. Rainier Elementary School in Prince Georges County, Md., story sharing is the first step.

That’s the foundation of Tellin’ Stories, Family Partners, a new program made possible through the social justice organization Teaching for Change. Parents, with the help of Mt. Rainier and Teaching for Change staff, will share stories of their families, their homelands, and their community, along with the hopes and dreams they have for their children.

“It’s common ground,” says Allyson Criner Brown, Tellin’ Stories coordinator and liaision to Mt. Rainier. “In this school with 58 percent Hispanic students, 27 percent African American students, 11 percent white students and 3 percent Asian Pacific Islander, sharing stories brings the parents and educators together.”
While parents receive training on everything from reading to deciphering report cards and standards to advocating for their children, says Criner Brown, teachers receive training on improving parent involvement.

Andrea Vincent, an ESOL teacher at Mt. Rainier co-teaches with general classroom teachers in the first and fifth grades. She appreciates the multi-layered approach to engaging parents and teachers. “This is exciting for me because the program shares my philosophy about parent engagement,” says Vincent. “It’s sadly rare to have parents, teachers, and parent liaisons in one room answering the question of how we can make parent involvement and ultimately, student learning. Now, we’ll be working together throughout the year.”

At Mt. Rainier, the parents’ stories will be transformed into a story quilt they will create together. “With each quilt square, a family story is told,” explains Brown. “Parents work so carefully to create their square, sewing or gluing in pictures or mementos. It’s a point of pride for them.”

The quilt will be presented to the school and put on display for students, parents, and teachers.

Vincent is also excited about “Roving Readers,” an effort that will include classroom teachers, reading specialists, and the parent liaison who will work with parents throughout the school year in reading aloud, selecting books for home and the classroom. The program will also teach parents how to ask questions of student listeners, and provide tips that will help parents share stories with classrooms in their native languages and in English. “My students will have the chance to see their own parents read or share stories with their classmates, or other classrooms, and it will really make them proud to see them getting involved,” says Vincent.

Tellin’ Stories will also help parents advocate for their children. “As we develop the comfort level between parents and educators and administrators, we work together to address the challenges of the school itself and how parents can help,” Criner Brown says. “Parents learn to help their child at home but also their school and community.” Grade-level dialogues between parents and teachers will help parents share their concerns with the school. Leadership and advocacy workshops will help parents become advocates for the educators and the school in the district.

Most of all, the activist parents become even more engaged at home, using the reading, writing, and leadership skills to help their children.

Does it make a difference? Criner-Brown points to a 2008 example of a Prince George’s county parent who recently contacted her Tellin’ Stories liaison. “She wanted to thank the school and teachers and principal for getting her involved and teaching her how to help her child,” Criner Brown says. “Her child recently graduated valedictorian of her class and received multiple college offers.”

For more information, go to Tellin’ Stories.


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