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Educating Parents About Education

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Farmin/Stidwell teachers make a video for parents

When it comes to a child’s success in school, one factor weighs mightily: The more a parent gets involved in their child’s education, the better the child will learn.

“One of our goals is to get parents more involved in their child’s education, because studies show that a student’s success is directly linked to that,” says Farmin-Stidwell Elementary School first-grade teacher Nicole Dash. “The more ways that parents demonstrate that they value education, the clearer it becomes that learning is important.”

To encourage parents—especially those who may not have had the most positive educational experiences themselves—to increase their at-home attention to their child’s studies, Dash came up with an ingenious idea: produce an informational DVD and send a copy of it home in September with each kindergartner and first-grader to view together with their parents.

Over the next three years -- the expected life of the DVDs -- the families of about 600 students will benefit from the $2,000 project, which is being funded by the Panhandle Alliance for Education.

The videos, one for first grade and one for kindergarten, will give some background about child development, an overview of the curriculum, expectations of the class, daily routines, vocabulary used in the reading program (for example, fluency, reading strategies, “blending” and “segmenting” words), and information on how parents can best support their children’s learning at home and at school. The videos will feature teachers and parent volunteers as well as some kindergartners and first-graders themselves.

“We included students reading on the video, so parents can hear how amazingly fluent a first-grader can sound by the end of the year,” said Dash, now in her eighth year in the Lake Pend Oreille School District. “We talk about how our math and reading program spiral: We introduce concepts like fractions and time, not going for mastery but beginning to develop various skills that will keep coming back around in future grades.”

Increasing the number of parents who attend informational programs and who volunteer in their child’s classroom is one hoped-for outcome of the video, Dash said. “We host many parent-night activities and workshops, and the parents who attend these events tend to be the parents who are already involved in their child’s education,” Dash said. “I think the video will show the many different ways that parents participate and volunteer and will make it less intimidating for a parent who has never volunteered to consider doing so.”

Apart from encouraging parents to volunteer, the DVD serves several practical purposes, Dash said:  Parents who may not be literate will better appreciate the delivery of information via the contemporary movie format; the parent who doesn’t have transportation can have contact from the school, getting a view of and feel for the building and the teachers; and parents will get accurate and up-to-date information early in the academic year, preventing unnecessary miscommunication. For parents without a DVD player, computers for viewing the DVD will be available at school during registration.  

The scriptwriting, videotaping, production, and editing of the DVD were a collaborative effort: Farmin-Stidwell first-grade teacher Melissa Couch wrote the content for the first-grade video, and kindergarten teacher Ellie Lizotte wrote the kindergarten script. LPOSD Superintendent Dick Cvitanich introduces the video, and Farmin-Stidwell Principal Annie Bagby talks about the school. Music teacher Tami Belzer-Gunter recorded original marimba music for the score.  The art, physical education, and technology teachers at Farmin-Stidwell talk about their facilities and programs for young students, and local pediatrician Dr. Joyce Gilbert discusses the importance of adequate sleep and good nutrition to children’s ability to learn.

“Several moms and dads who volunteer at our school agreed to be filmed, and they speak to their fellow parents about what it’s possible for children to learn in first grade,” Dash said. “Parents are shocked at how much their kids are capable of learning because it’s much different, and greater, than what most of us learned in first grade.” Reading fluency of 55 words a minute and the ability to automatically recognize 150 high-frequency words by sight are two examples of current standards for first-graders.  Dash said that reading homework each night helps students to achieve these goals.

The Panhandle Alliance for Education is a nonprofit organization comprised of local citizens, businesses, and educators.  Its mission is to promote excellence in education and broad-based community support for the Lake Pend Oreille School District. Donations are used as working pool of money to create local teacher grants, fund a district-wide reading program, sponsor a career guidance counselor and support READY! for Kindergarten, an early childhood literacy program.  In addition, contributions help fund a permanent endowment, which is managed by the Idaho Community Foundation.  Since its inception in 2003, the Panhandle Alliance for Education has committed over $1,124,084  to the Lake Pend Oreille School District. Local citizens are encouraged to join by making tax-deductible donations. To learn more about PAFE, or to make an online donation, visit www.PanhandleAlliance.org.

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