By Paul Brennan | Watchdog.org
MILWAUKEE, Wis. — A unique graduation ceremony deserves a unique location.
“It’s the only K-12 school in the country to be awarded a Toyota Family Learning grant,” NCFL President Sharon Darling told Watchdog.org.
The grant allowed the two-year-old school to refurbish one of its room as a family learning lounge and launch the six-month-long program.
Parents had to commit to attending weekly program sessions.
The two-hour session were held in the evenings and covered topics from helping children with their homework to financial literacy.
“Every week it was something different,” explained Kia Green, one of the parents who completed the program. “Something to make you think outside the box. To look at things with a new viewpoint.”
“But even though there were different topics, all the topics built upon each other,” said Green.
“One of the things that impressed us about the school was how its approach makes education a tangible thing. They teach a process for investigating a problem in their community that they solve through making a plan and taking action. They learn real-world problem-solving,” said Darling.
“So, it was so important to us that the parents were learning the same way, so the parents can reinforce at home what the children are learning and really understand the educational approach the school was taking with their children.”
That was how the program was structured according to Amanda Evans, the technology facilitator at MES.
“There was a natural connection between what we do in the classroom and what we were doing with parents in the program,” said Evans, one of the MES staff members who ran the sessions. “The components of the program were all things we value and do at our school.”
Just as MES students undertake projects aimed at yielding tangible results, the parents’ program also yielded tangible results. Tangible enough to sit on.
Midway through the program, the parents met to build two benches with inlaid mosaics for the school. In the same session, they also built a Little Free Library, a small kiosk that makes donated books freely available to the public.
The Little Free Library and one of the benches will be located in front of the school. The other bench will be placed in the school’s courtyard.
“That night when we met for the combination service project was my favorite night of the program,” said Green. “Seeing so many people — all of us very different — coming together with one common interest, our children, and create something uniquely beautiful was wonderful.”
“We were all sort of like the mosaic tiles for the benches. Some are chipped, some are broken, some are whole. But when you put those tiles together, you get something beautiful,” said Green.
That night marked a turning point for the program.
“We were holding sessions on Wednesdays and Thursdays to accommodate people’s schedules. Prior to that night, the people who had started by coming on Wednesdays always came on Wednesdays and the people who had started on Thursdays always came on Thursdays,” said Evans. “The two groups didn’t mix.”
“Immediately following that activity parents started going back and forth between the two groups.”
That included Jamahl Turner, who started attending the Thursday sessions but ended up switching to Wednesday nights.
Following the bench and library building project, he saw real growth in the sense of community between the two groups.
“The bonding experience between the parents was the most important part of the program to me,” said Turner. “Having these parents show up week after week, being involved in the school and sharing what they’re doing with their children. That’s huge, if you think about it.”
It’s also the result NCFL was looking for.
“Our whole goal is to help parents become leaders and become mentors to other parents, and to really give back to the community,” said Darling.
That is happening at MES.
During the program, Green worked with other parents to start a Girl Scout troop at the school.
“I’m the troop leader. I see it as opportunity to mentor not just my girls, but their parents as well,” said Green.
Turner is also determined to act as a mentor when the program starts again at the beginning of the new school year.
“I suggested having parents who have been through the program come back next year to help enhance the program and help motivate other parents to get more involved at the school,” said Turner.
Several parents, including Green, have agreed to do so.
Evans will also be there when the program returns.
“I’m very much looking forward to it. I’ve had a lot of fun with our parents this year. This next year is going to be great, too,” said Evans.
Contact Paul Brennan at [email protected]