West Side parents aid teachers, learn skills in expanding program

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The Parent Mentor Program, which puts parents in classrooms at Mary C. Snow and other schools on Charleston’s West Side, is accepting applicants through Wednesday.

An initiative that puts parents in classrooms on Charleston’s West Side to aid students and teachers is set to expand this school year.

Bonita Perry-Dean said the Parent Mentor Program — coordinated by the HOPE Community Development Corp., an organization that seeks to improve the lives of West Side residents, and the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition — is accepting applicants through Wednesday, but has already attracted 28 candidates.

The initiative began last academic year with a dozen participants. Perry-Dean, the program’s coordinator, said despite the name, parent mentors can include other relatives of students, like grandparents, or people who don’t have children but want to help them. To avoid conflicts of interest, parents and other relatives aren’t allowed to aid in classrooms that contain related students.

Perry-Dean anticipates putting one parent mentor each in eight classrooms at Edgewood Elementary, eight classrooms at Grandview Elementary and 12 classrooms at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary. The parent mentors will begin working Oct. 13.

“We see the need,” she said. “The schools are asking for us now.”

Statewide standardized tests for the 2013-14 academic year — the last year for which Kanawha County Schools has released individual school results — show West Side schools are continuing to struggle with low reading and math proficiency rates compared to the rest of the state.

Perry-Dean said the program puts each parent mentor under the direction of a single teacher who will instruct the parent on how he or she can help students, such as through working with small groups of children who need extra help in math and reading.

Perry-Dean said she asks the parent mentors to work a minimum 2 hours per day, four days a week, though most last school year stayed the whole school day. They can earn $250 for working 50 hours, $500 for working 100 hours and more if they work as coordinators recording other parents’ hours and organizing Friday meetings. Every other Friday, the parents gather to learn job or teaching skills — things like how best to read to children through the Read Aloud West Virginia program.

“This will help the community to see the school as a partner, and also help develop leadership qualities in the parents,” Perry-Dean said.

Out of the dozen parent mentors last school year, she said six have since gotten jobs — in most cases, working in after-school or other child care programs.

The Charles and Mary Fayne Glotfelty Foundation provided $35,000 to fund the program last school year, said Sue Sergi, chairwoman of the foundation’s board. The Charleston-based philanthropy is providing money again this academic year, but it’s unclear how much more will be needed because of dollars carried over from the initial run, Sergi said.

She said Mary Fayne — who created the foundation in 2012 to honor her late husband, and died not long after — was a social worker who was interested in serving women and children.

“We feel like on the West Side — and in many schools, but particularly on the West Side — that there’s a need to get the parents involved in their children’s education in a positive way,” Sergi said. She said schools might intimidate these parents because they may not have been academically successful as children, and the program can build their confidence.

Sergi said the foundation also gave $47,000 last school year to establish an after-school program that puts free instruments like violins, guitars and snare drums in the hands of students at Mary C. Snow. Students who practice their instruments and attend the music classes taught by artists provided through the Clay Center get to keep their instruments at the end of the school year. The foundation is continuing to fund the program this academic year.

Lawanda Wright, a single mother with an adult son, began volunteering in her granddaughter’s classroom at Mary C. Snow last school year, but she said God directed her to instead work in a first-grade classroom there that needed more help. She said 14 students there were set to be held back from second grade.

When the Parent Mentors Program started, Wright joined and continued helping students in the classroom. Eventually, she said, all the children except for two were prepared to enter the next grade.

“These children became my grandchildren too, so I just wanted to see them succeed,” she said. “So I lived at that school.”

Wright said she was able to provide the one-on-one and small group instruction teachers didn’t have time for, and also helped with serving and discipline in the lunchroom. She still calls the children her babies.

“The whole school knows me as grandma,” Wright said. “And I’m not that old — I’m only 46,”