Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools are giving parents a lesson on the best ways to serve their students.
The Parent Academy program launched a pilot last week with an event for guardians of rising sixth-graders and middle school families. In three sessions, the event Thursday evening at the central office aimed to teach adults effective strategies to support learning at home.
It was Felicia Highland’s idea to bring a program like this to the community.
“As the coordinator for family and community engagement, I’m looking to develop programming that is tailored to meeting the needs of families so that they can be more engaged in our schools,” she said.
She said family engagement increases effective communication lines between school and home, as well as boosts the academic performance of students. Parents can be in the dark as to how to bolster their children’s learning, but programs like Parent Academy are empowering for adults and educational for parents and teachers alike.
“It also builds a community of collaboration” to create a strong partnership to see children through all levels of schooling, Highland said.
Highland gathered a team of stakeholders — school administrators, division-level curriculum leaders, parents and community members — to craft a pilot program. The committee brainstormed topics they thought would be important to parents of middle school students, then settled on three that were presented in 30-minute blocks Thursday.
Parents came up with the “Effective Study Habits” topic, which accompanied “Organizing/Time Management” and “Technology Resources.”
In the last topic, parents sat at desktop computers and iPads to get a hands-on experience using education apps and tools. They learned about apps that can sync a family’s many calendars and to-do lists, give vocabulary lessons by subject or pre-fill virtual decks of flashcards by area of study.
Educator Robyn Moore said the session was designed to give parents an attainable, approachable starting place when tackling high-tech software.
All programs or apps are free to download and use.
WJCC parent Star Lewis was particularly interested in the technology lesson, and was impressed by the many online resources available to parents. Her daughter will be going into eighth grade next year, and she wishes a program like this existed when her child was just starting middle school.
For Heather Hammack, parent of a rising middle-schooler, the biggest take-away was the information on technology, as well. With tools so different from those when parents were in school, she said many do not know what is out there.
In “Effective Study Habits” Mary Jo Bracken, guidance counselor at Toano Middle School, urged parents to offer words of encouragement to their children — even if they go unacknowledged. She said many children coping with issues feel they can ask for help.
“That’s where you come in,” she told parents.
Parents also learned how to support their children’s study habits and what best suits each learning style. They left with a survey to take with their children to determine whether they are auditory, kinesthetic or visual learners.
These tactics should keep students from going from an “A in elementary school to a ‘yikes’ in high school,” said Margot Hall, the division’s coordinator for world language and ESL.
Hammack said the topics covered at the Parent Academy are ones that had not applied or been discussed as much in elementary school.
“Now it’s falling on the students to develop that independence, and the parents to support and scaffold it,” she said.
About 55 people attended the first program, which Highland stressed was a pilot. WJCC is still developing the model.
She said Thursday’s event was the opportunity to spread the word about the direction the division is taking, and gain feedback for future academies to address families with children at all grade levels. Highland will use guests’ evaluations, reach out to PTA organizations and welcome additional responses to create a variety of academies for next year.