Young girl learns sign language
Stamford Public Education Foundation: Teaching Parents to be Leaders

Studies show that when parents get involved with their children’s education, it makes a tremendous difference for the child. That’s why Kars4Kids is loving the parent leadership training programs run by the Stamford Public Education Foundation. And it’s why we gave this organization a small grant. Kids need more than a school, school supplies, and teachers. They need their parents’ involvement in order to succeed. We spoke to Program Coordinator of the Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI), Regan Allan, to learn more about this work:

Kars4Kids: How do you select candidates for your PLTI program?

Regan Allan: Candidates for our parent leadership training programs are selected by our Design Team, which is like a Board of Directors. We recruit candidates through a variety of methods including printed flyers, email blasts, social media campaigns, word of mouth and through alumni. We also ask school principals to “nominate” two parents in their schools who might benefit from training. Candidates are interviewed by Design Team members and then the Design Team meets to select participants.

parenting leadership graduation ceremony

Kars4Kids: Your PLTI and Parents SEE course description says that parents, grandparents, and guardians are eligible. Do you have many grandparents taking this training course?

Regan Allan: We do have quite a few grandparents who take the course. Some have primary custody of their grandchildren and some just want to learn more about schools and get involved in their grandchildren’s education. Stamford is fortunate to have a committed population of senior citizens who care deeply about our public school system.

Kars4Kids: What types of strategies and tools do those taking the Parents SEE course acquire?

Regan Allan: We actually refer parents to a “toolbox” so they can advocate for their own children and all children in our city. We talk about the concept of “I over E;” parents should use “intellect” over “emotion” when dealing with school administrators. It won’t help their cause if they come storming into the principal’s office demanding to have their child’s grade changed from a C to A. They need to learn more about why their child got a C and ask about the curriculum. If they equip themselves with data and facts, they will be better received and more likely to make change.

We also teach parents about how the school system works and who to go to when they have questions. The course also emphasizes public speaking skills. Parents have to prepare a 3-minute “elevator speech” about their community project.

Parenting leadership seminar

Kars4Kids: You serve a family dinner prior to each Parents SEE session. Is that meant to be a draw, to bring more candidates to the program?

Regan Allan: We try to remove any barriers to participation by offering dinner, transportation and childcare or children’s programming. It’s hard to be a parent working from 9-5pm and then have to think about feeding your family before heading out to class. We have a lot of parents who go straight from work to pick up their child at daycare and then straight to dinner with us. We want to make it as easy as possible.

Kars4Kids: At least one goal of leadership training sessions such as PLTI, PEP, and Parents SEE, seems to be greater engagement with a student’s school and education, which tends to have a positive impact on the student. How do these programs help participants engage with student education practically speaking?

Regan Allan: Some of our graduates have gone on to serve on our Board of Education, so many of them have been involved with policy making within our school district. Others get involved on their school’s governance councils, which are site based teams that hire teachers, choose curriculum and make budgeting decisions. We also have graduates who have started tutoring programs in the schools and organizing workshops for parents to learn about education. With over 500 alumni in Stamford, every school has been affected in some way to improve education by one of our graduates.

Parents and their children participate in leadership training workshops

Kars4Kids: The Parents SEE application form asks this question: “What do you think is the most important educational issue facing your community?”

Is there a particular answer you see most often from applicants to this program?

Regan Allan: Stamford is a growing city with limited resources, so we often see answers that have to do with the school budget. Participants want to know how the budget process works and how they can advocate for a particular program. We also get a lot of answers about technology. Parents are worried about internet safety and the increasing use of “gadgets.”

Kars4Kids: What is the youngest participant you’ve had in your parent leadership training programs?

Regan Allan: We had a 20-year-old a few years ago who wanted to get more involved and she’s now getting her Ph.D. in Psychology! Last year, the age range was from 24-62.

Kars4Kids: Are PEP and CPEP mutually exclusive? Can a child or a parent take the course independent of what the other does? What does graduating these programs mean, going forward?Children learn how different people communicate

Regan Allan: Children and parents take the course together. The idea is to have the children learn the same concepts the adults learn during a session, but through activities that are more age appropriate. For example, for the session on communication, adults learn about the importance of body language in terms of leadership and communication. That’s a challenging concept for children to understand, so instead we talk about the different ways people can communicate.

The children learn how to sign their names in American Sign Language, Young girl learns sign languagethey do a craft with their name in Braille and we play charades and the classic circle game Telephone. After each session, the children receive a book that goes along with the theme for the night. Parents are encouraged to read the book with their children and talk about the different activities they did in each class.

After graduation, we expect the parents to become leaders by participating in civic life and through a group community project. This year, our recent graduates are planning a winter clothing drive for day laborers in Stamford and a workshop to teach other Spanish speaking parents about bullying.

Kars4Kids: What’s next for SPEF?

Regan Allan: This year, we are implementing the Parents Supporting Educational Excellence program (also called Parents SEE). This is a 12-week program that helps parents of students in our public school district learn about key issues which our district and Connecticut, face. In Stamford, student absenteeism is a big issue, so class participants will read articles about how other districts have addressed absenteeism and what laws and policies are. They will also learn about how to read a school district budget and what they can do to support the budget or advocate for something that isn’t in the budget. Guest speakers will include the superintendent of schools, principals, teachers and local or state elected officials.

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